Immigration

'If they return, they will be killed': Hazaras protest Afghan president's Canberra visit, fearing a refugee deal

Hazaras protest the arrival of Afghanistan's president at Government House in Canberra on April 4, 2017. Source: SBS / James Elton-Pym

Thousands of Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic minority are protesting Ashraf Ghani's visit to Canberra, citing concerns over a disputed power line in their homeland and the safety of Hazara asylum seekers in Australia.

Thousands of ethnic Hazaras have rallied outside Government House in Canberra to protest the arrival of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. 

The demonstrators fear Mr Ghani - the first Afghan president to visit Australia - is in Canberra to negotiate a deal that would see Hazara refugees returned to their homeland, though there has been no official indication such a deal is on the table. 

"If any Hazara is sent back home, they will be killed," protester Najeeba Wazefadost, a member of the ethnic minority, told SBS News. 

"They will be discriminated [against] and they will be persecuted."

While there is no indication any draft refugee deal exists, the protesters are concerned the Afghan government might be seeking a deal similar to the one it struck with the European Union last year, which has seen hundreds of people deported back to Afghanistan.

By the time Mr Ghani's motorcade arrived at the Governor General's residence, a crowd of thousands had gathered on the lawns behind a police barricade.

Buses were used to transport protesters from around the country, with some even coming from New Zealand. 

Some held signs depicting Mr Ghani's face overlayed on the Nazi swastika symbol as the group chanted, "ethnic hatred, no!" 

Dr Ehsan Azari, an academic from the Western Sydney University, said the demonstrators were making the problem worse by deepening the divide. 

"They need to be united ... to work for their own country, and I think at this point divisive voices will ... help no one," Dr Azari said. 

A protest sign depicting Afghan president Ashraf Ghani overlayed on the Nazi swastika symbol.
A protest sign depicting Afghan president Ashraf Ghani overlayed on the Nazi swastika symbol.
SBS / James Elton-Pym

President Ashraf Ghani is in Australia to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan, where more than 200 Australian defence personnel are still training and supporting local troops.

"I think the Australian government has always expressed its willingness ... to continue military aid in order for Afghanistan to stand on its own feet and to build up its military capacity in order to fight terrorism," Dr Azari said.

The leaders will also discuss agriculture and the empowerment of women.

Besides fears over a refugee deal, the protesters said they wanted to urge Australia's government to ensure aid money sent to Afghanistan was not implicated in the oppression of Hazara people. 

The Hazaras are also concerned over a power line that was to go through the Hazara-dominated Bamyan province in Afghanistan, but has since been rerouted in a move interpreted by some Hazaras as evidence President Ghani is trying to deprive them of resources. 

The Hazaras are an ethnic minority who are mostly Shia Muslims, while the majority of Afghans practice Sunni Islam. 

"They are trying to kill Hazara because of their religion", said demonstrator Khagem Mirzaie.

"[President Ghani is] always trying to ask the Hazaras to come back to their country, but there is no peace."

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