Hazaras in peril. John Menadue

Mar 30, 2013

There are an estimated 50,000 persons of Hazara background living in Australia. Many of their relatives and friends are being intimidated and killed regularly in Pakistan. It is not surprising that they are fleeing and paying people smugglers to get to safety in Australia or elsewhere.

The Hazara are a Shia group who have traditionally been persecuted in Afghanistan. Their physical appearance also makes them ‘different’.

For decades, Hazaras have fled to Pakistan for safety and reside mainly in the Quetta area of NW Pakistan. That has now changed with the Hazara in Quetta being specifically targeted by militant Islamist groups.

Ben Doherty in the SMH of 29 March 2013 reported that there has been ‘an alarming increase in the rate and severity of attacks on Hazara in Pakistan. In eight attacks (this year) 216 Hazara have been killed and more than 300 injured”.

Given the peril that Hazaras face in Pakistan, it is ridiculous to suppose that any ‘deterrents’ that we can conjure up in Australia will have any affect.

It is not surprising that in 2011-12, Afghan citizens accounted for more than 40% of boat arrivals who were granted refugee status in Australia. Most would be Hazara. With the increased targeting and killing of Hazara in Quetta recently, an even greater number will be seeking our protection.

Action on our own borders will have only a marginal effect. That is why Arja Keski-Nummi and I proposed more than 12 months ago, that Australia establish an Orderly Departure Program with Afghanistan and Pakistan to provide alternatives and less-risky pathways for asylum seekers in peril in Afghanistan and Pakistan and particularly for the Hazara with family in Australia. It is clear that there will be security problems for Australian officials administering orderly departure programs in those two countries. But the risks are manageable. Further, the risks are small compared with the risks that the vulnerable Hazara are facing every day of their lives.

In 1982 when I was Secretary of the Department of Immigration, with Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister and Ian Macphee as Minister we established an Orderly Departure Program with Vietnam, a former enemy. Foreign Affairs and Immigration officials negotiated the arrangement. Under this program, 100,000 Vietnamese came to Australia without having to pay people smugglers or risk their lives at sea.

There is no single ‘solution’ to asylum seekers seeking protection in Australia or anywhere in the world… We need to act in source countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in transit countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. But whatever we do, people flows will always be messy. Some asylum seekers will continue to come irregularly to Australia. We need to grow up and live with the fact that in this world there are over 25 million asylum seekers, refugees and displaced persons. And the number is increasing as we live in comfort and security in Australia.

We have a moral obligation to help people in peril. We also have a self-interest. The history of 750,000 refugees that have come to Australia since WWII is a success story. Highly motivated refugees worked hard and established families. In education particularly, their children show a clean pair of heels to the Australian-born.

John Menadue

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