IN an interview with the BBC over a year ago, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he had “no sympathy” for migrants fleeing his country.
This attitude from the Afghan leader was what led thousands of Hazaras – an ethnic and religious minority in Afghanistan who have been the victims of perpetual discrimination and persecution for decades – to protest outside Australia’s Government House in Canberra on Monday.
Sajjad Askary, one of the protest’s organisers, said: “We received secret news President Ashraf Ghani is on an official visit on the invitation of the Australian government, which was supposed to be last year, but postponed to 2017.”
According to reports, Ashraf arrived in the Australian capital on Sunday for what is said to be the first visit to Australia by an Afghan president.
In a statement on Monday, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the visit would focus on ongoing security and development cooperation to “help Afghanistan in its efforts to become more prosperous, secure and self-reliant.”
“In particular, we will seek to enhance partnership between our nations in a number of fields including women’s and girls’ empowerment, public sector capacity building and agricultural productivity,” he said.
Sajjad said he found the purpose of the visit to be ambiguous on both sides – the Australian government and the Afghanistan Embassy in Canberra.
“We assumed he (Ashraf) may repeat the history again on vulnerable Hazaras as he signed a memorandum in Europe to repatriate Hazaras to the hell they already escaped from,” Sajjad said.
Last October, the European Union and Afghanistan announced a deal that would send tens of thousands of Afghan migrants seeking refuge in Europe back to their home country. The agreement, according to a New York Times report, said: “The EU and the government of Afghanistan intend to cooperate closely to organise the dignified, safe and orderly return of Afghan nationals who do not fulfil the conditions to stay in the EU to Afghanistan.”
“This news agonised us. We feared around four thousand Hazaras who have been waiting for a long time in remote detention centres and in communities will be deported back to Afghanistan, where they will be subject to torture, abuse and potentially death,” Sajjad said.
He also disputed a claim made by Ashraf during the same 2016 BBC interview the government had spent “hundreds of millions of dollars [on people] who want to leave under the slightest pressure.”
Sajjad alleged although the Afghan president had received millions of dollars from European nations to enhance security inside his country, “he failed and the security is worsening day by day.”
Sitarah Mohammady, who arrived in Australia in November 2006 and co-organised the Canberra rally, said, “There are numerous examples of explicit discrimination and marginalisation of Hazara ethnicity in Afghanistan.”
“One of the horrific tragedies was the Deh Mazang attack,” she recalled, referring to the Islamic State bomb strike on Hazara crowds protesting in the Afghan capital last July.
“Hundreds of people tried to raise their voices against the government’s unfair transformation of TUTAP’s (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan) route from mostly Hazara-populated areas to Pashtun-populated areas, but were killed for doing so,” Sitarah said.
On the Canberra gathering, the young refugee said the peaceful demonstration was against institutional discrimination and “non-stop persecution” of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan. Protesters handed out flowers to the Australian police during the gathering.
“We humbly asked for our legitimate rights, that being Hazara shouldn’t be crime anymore and no illogical treaties should be signed for repatriation of oppressed Hazara asylum seekers,” she said.
Afghanistan’s current repatriation and immigration minister Syed Aalimi Balkhi has repeatedly urged Western nations not to return failed Afghan asylum seekers to Afghanistan, as they cannot be guaranteed safety and security.
He has also urged the European Union and the Australian government to reconsider and possibly amend the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) inked with Afghanistan that allowed for forcible deportation and involuntary returns of Hazaras and other Afghan citizens.
According to Sajjad, since the agreement was signed, there have been numerous cases of “covert, peremptory deportation” of Afghan asylum seekers.
“A valid source told me last week a Hazara asylum seeker who waited in Adelaide for an indefinite time was deported forcibly.”
*** Mohammad Baqir Bayani is the co-founder and co-director of www.refugeesofindonesia.com, and is currently residing in Indonesia as a person seeking asylum awaiting third-country resettlement.