Hazara Australians fear their people in Afghanistan could soon be massacred

As foreign forces leave Afghanistan and more districts fall to a resurgent Taliban, Hazaras in Australia fear "mass atrocity crimes" could be just around the corner.

Hazara Australian man Namatullah Kadrie fears violence against his people in Afghanistan is about to escalate.

Hazara Australian man Namatullah Kadrie fears violence against his people in Afghanistan is about to escalate. Source: SBS News/Cameron Dale

Hazara man Namatullah Kadrie was only five years old when his family fled Afghanistan. 

Twenty years have since passed, but he’s now more worried than ever about those they left behind given western forces are about to fully withdraw from the country.

“We can’t do anything, but we're worried sick about what will happen to them,” he told SBS News at his home in Melbourne.

“I'm very worried about what will happen to the Hazaras when the foreign forces completely leave Afghanistan. I think what we'll see is a full-scale war against the Hazaras.” 

Namatullah Kadrie and his family in the late 1990s before they fled Afghanistan.
Source: Supplied

The Hazaras are a minority group persecuted in Sunni Muslim-majority Afghanistan due to their Shia Muslim faith.

Mr Kadrie said the Taliban has already staged attacks on his home village in recent weeks and he is expecting more to come.

“The Taliban has been going around, obtaining taxes - illegal taxes - from the locals for lands that they don't even live on,” he said.

“Everyone I know of is feeling scared and worried about the prospect of the Taliban taking over the country.” 

Taliban control growing

Dozens of Afghanistan’s districts have fallen to the Taliban this year amid the withdrawals of the US and its allies, including Australia.

On Friday, the Taliban claimed it was now in control of 85 per cent of Afghanistan.

“We have seen a massive onslaught by the Taliban to take control of territories and districts across Afghanistan,” La Trobe University international relations expert Niamatullah Ibrahimi said.

“The thing that will be really a game changer is if the Taliban establishes its control over entire provinces in any part of Afghanistan.”

Hazara man and La Trobe University international relations expert Niamatullah Ibrahimi.
Source: SBS News/Scott Cardwell

At the same time, attacks on Afghanistan’s Hazaras are said to have been increasing.

In May, three explosions in quick succession killed nearly 100 Hazaras at a Kabul school. Most of them were schoolgirls.

That prompted calls from Afghan human rights groups and the Hazara community for a United Nations investigation into attacks on Hazaras as genocide.

Then, in June, a string of mini-van bombings in Hazara-majority neighbourhoods claimed more lives.

While many of these attacks have gone unclaimed, analysts say the western forces’ withdrawal has emboldened the Taliban and others who seek to harm Hazaras.

Dr Ibrahimi, who is also Hazara, said he has been frustrated by the international community’s “indifference” to the situation.

“There is a human tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes, a human tragedy of massive proportions, and this is happening at a time when the international community - the United States, Australia, and NATO forces - are walking away from Afghanistan,” he said

“What I am quite worried about is there will be mass atrocity crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan on a much larger scale than we've seen before, and this will happen at a time when the international community loses its interest and political will to stay engaged and focused on Afghanistan.”

Hazara-Australians urge government to save their families in Afghanistan

'Already signs of ethnic cleansing'

Australia is now home to some 50,000 Hazaras, many of whom fled Afghanistan in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Taliban first took power.

Shukufa Tahiri’s family was one of the thousands that left. They eventually settled in Sydney.

“It was impossible to live under such a fundamentalist extremist group, because we were Hazara, we were distinct in our ethnicity and faith group, so we were a sworn enemy of the Taliban,” she said.

Hazara Australian Shukufa Tahiri.
Source: Supplied

“The last two weeks have been the bloodiest in the last 20 years, and that means there is even more fear of the Taliban's return and the repeat of the nightmare that happened in the 1990s.”

While the late 1990s saw heightened violence, Hazaras have faced centuries of persecution in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of thousands of Hazaras are estimated to have been killed, enslaved, or expelled during the 19th century.

And now, following two decades of western intervention in Afghanistan, many fear the violence and killings will escalate.

“People are actually feeling like there are already signs of ethnic cleansing and genocidal campaigns by the Taliban,” Ms Tahiri said.

Ms Tahiri said she is in regular contact with her relatives in Afghanistan, who fear the Taliban's control will all-but-certainly grow.

“We're very concerned, because it seems like the infiltration of the Taliban is actually reaching our own towns and our villages that we once fled,” she said.

“They’re just at a loss in terms of what to do. There are people who are trying to escape the country, and there are people who have no plans but are just waiting for the Taliban takeover around the corner.”

'A very grim picture'

The recent onslaught of violence has many warning a mass exodus of Afghan asylum seekers could be just around the corner.

Calls for a global moratorium on returning Hazaras to Afghanistan are now growing louder.

Australian National University emeritus professor William Maley, who specialises in refugees and Afghan politics, is one of the people leading those calls.

“The situation is so fluid and heading in such a worrying direction at the moment that any suggestion it might be safe to return asylum seekers to Afghanistan at the moment is preposterous and should be seen as such,” he said.

“It would be much more sensible simply to recognise that in public policy, rather than go through the delusion of pretending there are safe areas in Afghanistan to which people might be returned.”

Afghan Hazaras mourning after a string of minivan bombings in their Kabul neighbourhoods last month.
Source: AP

SBS News asked the Department of Home Affairs if it would make such a commitment. 

A department spokesperson said: “Individuals who arrive lawfully in Australia, seek asylum, and are found to engage Australia’s non-refoulment obligations may be granted permanent protection, subject to fulfilling relevant visa criteria.”

But many, including Professor Maley, are pushing for a firmer guarantee.

“Already, evidence coming out of Afghanistan from areas into which the Taliban have moved presents a very, very grim picture of what life under the Taliban would be like,” he said.

“One wouldn't want to see a replication of the kind of situation the German Jews faced in the 1930s, when no one really wanted to welcome them to their country, and people literally were sent back who'd been inside the United States and who ended up being gassed in the Holocaust.”

Published 11 July 2021 at 6:25am
By Claudia Farhart