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Op-ed: Tasmanians stand with Hazara Community

Thursday 16 September 2021, The Examiner

We have all been touched in the past weeks and months by the tragedies which have unfolded in Afghanistan.

Following the withdrawal of American military forces the Taliban swiftly took over in a matter of weeks, undoing many of the social and political advances that had been made in the past two decades. I am sure few of us were not touched to see images of families attempting to flee from Hamid Karzai Airport, crammed into, or clinging from, aeroplanes and Afghans just handing their children over to any soldiers who could take them.

Heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to describe the desperation that these people must be feeling. This isn’t the first time Afghans have been forced to leave their beloved homeland. Under Taliban rule, and the zealotry that informs its beliefs, life is brutal, particularly for persecuted groups and people. For ethnic minorities, women and religious minorities, many of the gains that were made over the past two decades have crumbled. Education, healthcare and justice are simply no longer accessible to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.

Going back decades, one of the most oppressed groups in Afghanistan are the Hazaras, who hail from Hazarajat in the mountainous region of central Afghanistan. The Hazaras comprise the third-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, with an estimated 9 million Hazaras out of the approximately 33 million-strong population of the country.

Following the original Taliban takeover of Hazarajat in 1998 after the Soviet-Afghan conflict, the region was held as totally isolated from the world, with the Taliban prohibiting the United Nations from delivering food to the provinces contained in Hazarajat. Many people suffered and died.

Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, documented severe oppression, ethnic massacres, pogroms and genocides by Pashtun Taliban on Hazaras in the years that followed. Since 2001, a significant number of Hazara Afghans now call Launceston home. Over fifty families who have been granted humanitarian visas live, work and go to school here.

This wonderful, vibrant and close-knit community has obviously been significantly affected by the developments in Afghanistan. The rights that many of us here take for granted – the freedom to assemble, to free speech, to education, healthcare and justice – are now not available to many Afghans, and Hazaras in particular in Afghanistan.

The President of Launceston’s Hazara Association, Yousef Mohammadi, has a grandmother in Afghanistan in an area that is under Taliban control. Yousef’s family, who fled Afghanistan when he and his brother Yasin were very young, know what life is like under Taliban rule.

People’s hands were cut off in the street as a form of cruel, retributive justice, often for crimes that were committed as acts of desperation and caused by the inhumane policies of the Taliban to begin with. Yousef and Yasin’s family made their way through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to eventually receive some semblance of safety in Iran. Eventually, the family was resettled to Tasmania through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees resettlement program and were able to experience a life of safety and security for the first time.

Ability to learn English, go to school and do normal teenage things – like joining a soccer team – became a reality.

Whilst extraordinary, unfortunately stories like these are not uncommon amongst the Hazara community in Launceston.

People like Hosein Mohseni, also has family who remain in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and believes that, any time he talks to a family member at home, it could be the last time.

Unreliable communications infrastructure, combined with the types of uncertainty and cruelty that characterises Taliban rule, causes a great deal of distress for Hosein and many other members of the Hazara community in Launceston.

Seeing how the Hazara community in Launceston has grown over the past few years has been inspiring, with an active Facebook page, community events held in the city and a Hazara market in Elizabeth Street which provides a little taste of home.

In early September, I joined with the Hazara Community, my local, state and federal colleagues and other Launcestonians to stand in solidarity and show support to those who are suffering and in need of support in Afghanistan.

To see the effect of Taliban policies on those suffering here, has been absolutely heartbreaking. For the Hazara families that now call Launceston home, each one has a story. Each family still has ties to Afghanistan and are connected through their shared beliefs, customs, adversities and triumphs.

We are very lucky to have them as a part of our community and we are made stronger and richer for them being here with us. I stand with everyone in the community who supports Hazara Afghans and, along with my local, state and federal counterparts, commit to doing whatever I can to welcome them and alleviate their suffering here and at home.

Rosemary Armitage MLC Independent Member for Launceston


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