07/11/2023, 16.56
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Persecuted everywhere: the ordeal of Christian Hazara refugees

Afghan refugees in Pakistan hoped for a better life, but live in hiding and conceal their identity fearing expulsion or, worse, lynching in the streets for their faith. A short film by Christian Solidarity Worldwide give a voice to some Christians. According to experts, the only solution is humanitarian arrangements with third countries.

London (AsiaNews) – Some Afghans who fled to Pakistan following the fall of the pro-Western government and the return of the Taliban are discriminated four times over, as refugees, as Afghans, as Hazara and as Christians, forced to hide their ethnic and religious identity.

Their story is told in "Leave no one behind," a short video by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a human rights organisation.

The Hazaras are an Afghan ethnic minority and have always been persecuted by the country’s Pashtun majority, which is divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Most Hazaras are Shia Muslim. Those who found refuge in Pakistan are scattered in several Pakistani cities, facing danger and an uncertain future.

If they reveal that in addition to being Hazara refugees, they were also Christian, they risk lynching in the street, a fate not so unusual in Pakistan.

"The journey from Afghanistan was scary and it was night time,” says a woman surrounded by her four children. Their names are protected and faces are blurred, but their anguish is palpable in their words. First, they live “in fear that we might be recognised as Hazara. Secondly, if they (the Taliban) got to know we belong to an army family, they would have killed us at that moment.”

Soon after their return to power, the Taliban tracked down and massacred those who had collaborated with international military forces or worked for the previous Afghan government.

“I was fearful. This is why my daughters and myself wore the burqa. The boys had their faces covered by cloth and lying down in the vehicle so as not to reveal that they were Hazara,” the woman goes on to say.

"I just had been a law student for two weeks,” one of her daughters says. “The Taliban takeover left me with no other option but to quit my university and further education.”

"Only a few people knew that I was a Christian," says a man, his face obscured as well. “But my Muslim friends always ask me to convert back to Islam. I would tell them that it's none of your business.” 

When the Taliban began to hunt him down because they had found out that he was a Christian, they only found his wife at home. They asked her, "Where is your husband?" In order to get information, they tortured her, burning her arms with a heated skewer, leaving scars still visible months later.

The family fled bringing nothing along “except the clothes” worn “at that moment,” the man says. “We stayed in Quetta for a while, but the difficulties we were facing in Quetta were that my uncle and aunt knew that we were Christians, so whenever we went, they (my uncle and aunt) would call ahead and tell them not to let us stay because we are Christians and infidels.”

The Hazaras “are not welcomed in Pakistan; they are not welcomed anywhere,” explains Prof Farooq Suleria, an Afghan conflict analyst.

“Above all, both Taliban and Daesh are targeting Hazara people in different ways; for instance, there has been news that – and credible news – that Hazaras have been evicted from their villages and their homes, and these properties, these lands have been given over to Taliban fighters who were fighting for the last 20 years.”

Their persecution "is an ongoing crisis which has a history of over 40 years now. It is very important to address [it] and I think this is one of the urgent humanitarian issues that should be paid notice to.”

In fact, there are no signs of improvement in Pakistan, where refugees face daily discrimination as well as severe financial problems and limited access to resources and opportunities.

Many Afghans "receive calls, threatening calls, from unknown numbers telling them they know where they are, [that] They will track them,” says Sabal Gul Khattak, an independent researcher.

"No one is willing to rent their houses to them and if they do, then it is, you know, at exorbitant amounts, but being people who have left homes and who had to flee, they don't have the kind of money that is needed to survive in a hostile environment.”

A young Hazara Christian couple agree that the main problem in Pakistan is money.

“Though I studied in Pakistan, [and ] have actually [a] licence  for work from [the] PMC, the Pakistan Medical Commission, I cannot work because I do not have a work visa,” says the young husband. “We are living here by donations,” he laments.

In many Pakistani cities, “We hear the news that police have arrested Afghan refugees who are living here illegally,” he adds. While the Pakistani government has extended the visa for some Afghans, “there are many who don’t have visas.” And those who do, the extension is “only till December,” explains Sabal Gul Khattak. “After December, they don’t know where they will go.”

For some refugees, the situation is such that they are prisoners in their own homes, so stressed out that they are afraid to the point that “if someone rings the door bell, I fear it may be the police, and they might ask me about my documents and deport be back,” explains another refugee.

"I was hoping for a future," says the young married man cited above. “When I came here on the scholarship in Pakistan, my plan for the future was to go back and serve my people. But after recent events in Afghanistan, our situation in Pakistan [is such that] we are stuck here. We have nowhere to go back; [and] we have no way to go further.”

The only solution for Sabal Gul Khattak is to make “arrangements in countries where they will be safe.” It is clear that “the Hazara refugees are not going to be safe in Pakistan. We know that.” At the same time, “there are laws,” she adds. “We need to make use of those laws of asylum in every country.”

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