The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 30 August, 2021.
The largest group of people seeking refuge from the new government of the Taliban will be Hazaras, the majority of whom live in the Hazarajat, an area west of Kabul, including the provinces of Bamyan, Daykundi, Ghor, a large part of Ghazni, Urozgan, Parwan and Maidan Werdak.
Hazaras also live in Kabul and Quetta in Pakistan. When the Sunni Taliban seized power in 1996, they declared Jihad on the Shia Hazaras. There are four major tribal groupings in Afghanistan, Pathans, who are the largest comprising 50% of the population, the Tajiks, the Uzbecks and Hazaras, comprising 9% of the population or around 4 million people. The Taliban are Pathans.
In 1998 the Taliban conducted a regime of cruel repression in the Hazarajat leading to many Hazaras fleeing the country to Pakistan and from there to western countries they thought might accept them as refugees including Australia.
In 2001 the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar instructed that the Hazaras cultural heritage be destroyed plus forced land dispossession. The action of the Taliban encouraged discrimination by the broader Pashtun community and led to the diminished social standing of Hazaras in Afghanistan, many were forced into manual labour.
Improvement to Hazara lives and living conditions over the past 20 years under the Coalition are about to be undermined by the new Taliban government. The offshoot IS K, comprising some of the uglier elements of the old Taliban can be expected to aggressively target the Hazaras. Their emergence has already had the effect of making the Taliban look ‘moderate’ following the bombing of Afghan evacuees and US Marines last week at Kabul airport.
From 1995 to 2000 I was a Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT). In 2000 I made the benchmark decision for the RRT relating to an Hazara seeking refugee status in Australia. Ruddock, the then Minister for Immigration, was not pleased and nor was the then Prime Minister Howard. Typically, they saw the decision as opening up the flood gates. Most other Members of the Tribunal followed the precedent created by my decision, but some, with an eye on reappointment by Howard did not. As a result of the Hazara decision and positions I took toward Tamil and East Timorese refugees I was not re-appointed to the Tribunal.
Howard deliberately set out to muddy the waters with regard to Afghan refugees. He seemed to have a primal hatred for them. There was Tampa and then children overboard and then 9/11 after which he implied that amongst Afghan refugees coming to Australia were terrorists. The Australian community was fed the most awful propaganda about refugees, particularly Afghans, by the Howard Regime making it difficult for refugees to get a fair hearing and settle in Australia.
In 1997 I bought a farm near Mudgee and split my time between the farm and the RRT. In 2002 sixteen Hazara Temporary Protection visa holders came to work at the Abattoir in Mudgee. A branch of Rural Australians for Refugees was already in existence and took them under its wing. One of the refugees was 17; in the three years he was in Mudgee his hair turned white from the trauma he had been through. The dedicated members of the branch put together the necessary paper work and advocated for the Hazara men and all were granted permanent residency. Those with wives and children in Afghanistan applied to Immigration and all were given permission to come to Australia.
None ever applied for government assistance. All have done very well. Some, at least on paper are now millionaires. Children have been educated, gone to university, into the work force and some have married and have children. People in the Hazara community look after each other. They have great pride. They are an asset to Australia. Howard and the Murdoch press said they were doll bludgers.
Howard’s poisonous racism infected the ruling Liberal National Party (LNP) to the point it was impossible to gain pre-selection and preferment unless his irrational and rabid response to refugees was mirrored if not magnified. Abbott was a cruel disciple, along with Vanstone, Morrison and Dutton. Openly expressed hatred of Hazaras and later of Tamils was a badge of honour in the LNP. It is a sick in-house culture which has been encouraged by that sagging racist Murdoch and infected many otherwise good Australians.
Morrison and Dutton, in particular, picked up and ran with the Howard/LNP anti-refugee ethos. Both were Ministers for Immigration. People smugglers were paid off not to ply their trade and refugees who had come by boat were demonised. They still are. It was the flavour of the month to poke fun at refugees, like dwarf baiting. Never mind that 60,000 asylum seekers, many of them not genuine, have come by plane in a huge unexplained racket run under the nose of Border Force and Immigration. They are not demonised. Only boat people in a totally puerile and cruel campaign, perhaps to curry favour with the LNP father figure, the diminutive John Howard. It’s sick.
Refugee haters Morrison and Dutton are being asked to accept refugees from Afghanistan, many are Hazaras, following the unseemly collapse of the Coalition in Kabul over the past week or so. Under pressure Morrison has said he will take 3,000, but this figure is within the existing annual quota of 12,000.
Australian RAAF planes sent to pick up Australians and Afghans, and their families, who have rendered a service to Australian troops over the past 20 years, took out a total of 4000 people. In terms of the short notice, commendable, in terms of what might have been done pathetic. The Taliban had taken most of Urozgan province, where the Australian troops were stationed, by mid-June. The Taliban advance was swift; that was the point at which the Australian evacuation of at-risk personnel and their families should have begun.
Anyone following events in Afghanistan for the past 20 years could have predicted the rapid fall. The exit of the Russians from Afghanistan was a good indicator. Hiding behind ‘intelligence’ is a poor excuse. US intelligence relating to Afghanistan has been as bad as their intelligence on Vietnam.
Canada, the UK and the US have said they will take 20,000 refugees and it looks like the US will take more. There have been calls for Australia to commit to a similar figure. Evacuation flights have ceased. It is hard to know how the Canadians and British will meet their commitment. Pakistan has closed its border, but might be persuaded to reopen for a specific humanitarian intake.
As always Morrison’s words are hollow. There are 4000 Afghan TPV holders in Australia, some have been waiting for up to 10 years to be granted PR status. Their lives have been in limbo. There are 14000 Afghan asylum seekers warehoused on Java, who were on their way to Australia. All of these people should be given a life, in Australia. As my daughters say all Morrison has to do is press the button; but he need not, as they, and none of their friends will be voting for him. Morrison is in the Berlin Bunker and is being fed pap. MSM opinion polls are nonsense, that is not what the street is saying.
Thirty, Forty, Fifty thousand refugees are not a problem for Australia to accept and make a part of the community, there are so many examples before us. The problem is the racism of the people in positions of responsibility who we require to make the decisions. They cannot be relied on to make the right decisions on Refugees, Covid, Climate and China. They are criminally incompetent and morally depleted. They are immature, they believe their own propaganda and the myths of Howards moral supremacy, reinforced by Murdoch’s fear of encroaching mortality and need to control and contain events in the face of that fear. A weak man with a lot of power.
So, the people standing in the way of the issue of visas allowing Hazaras to stay in Australia and for allowing an intake of Afghan Refugees are Morrison and Dutton. Nobody should be allowed such power over desperate and vulnerable people.
This is the email sent by the to frightened and desperate Afghans who were associated with the Australian Government in one way or another.
“Given your links to Australia, while you have not been certified as a Locally Engaged Employee, you will be given PRIORITY FOR CONSIDERATION as part of the 3000 places in our humanitarian program as recently announced by the Government. We have passed your details to the Department of Home Affairs who will be in contact with you directly as soon as possible to gather the necessary information to CONSIDER YOUR CLAIM for protection.”
The weasel words are in caps. The advice is a fob off. An intention on the part of Morrison and Dutton to do nothing. Those poor people conned by the morally bankrupt.
Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat, policy analyst and political commentator.