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“No Matter Where We Go, Tragedy Follows Us”

Hazara Canadians Speaking Out Against Killings in Pakistan

by Sana Hashmi

Hazara Protest
Hazara Protest

On January 21, a bomb attack on a bus carrying Shi’a pilgrims near Quetta, Pakistan killed 29 and injured 40 others.  It is the latest in a long-running series of attacks and persecution faced by Hazara and Shi’a minority groups in Pakistan that Hazara communities in Canada have been protesting against.

Hazara people are an ethnic group found mainly in Central Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.   During the 1980s and 90s, Hazaras began migrating to Canada from Afghanistan during the Afghan War and persecution by the Taliban regime.

In the 2000s, many Hazaras were forced to migrate again, this time from Pakistan due to new acts of targeted violence.

An Amnesty International report from February 2013 shows how difficult the situation has become for the community.  Amnesty has documented 91 separate attacks on Shi’as across Pakistan in the last year.

“Hazaras are disproportionately represented in these chilling statistics – at least half of all deaths come from this community, one of the smallest in Pakistan,” the report states.  

The last year has seen constant organizing by Hazara Canadians in Toronto and Ottawa.  Protests and smaller activities have urged the Federal government to pressure Pakistan to take action against the persecution of Hazaras.

Nazeira Maqsuddi, an administrator of a Toronto-based Hazara Community group on Facebook, organized a bake sale with her friends at the University of Ottawa to raise money for victims’ families in Quetta after the most recent attack against the Hazara community.

“I guess, how we feel towards these attacks collectively is that no matter where we go and where we call home, it appears that tragedy follows us, “ Maqsuddi says.

Maqsuddi explains that as Shi’a minorities, Hazaras “faced ethnic cleansing and persecution many times in Afghanistan for their beliefs. That was the reason these people were exiled or left Afghanistan over a hundred years ago and made Pakistan their home. And now, what befell their forefathers befalls them as well.”

Images from a well-attended protest in Toronto in March 2013 show large placards which read;  “Stop Hazara genocide, “ Stop Shia killings in Quetta, Pakistan,” and a haunting “Why my father was killed?”

In just the past couple of years, hundreds of lives in Pakistan have been claimed by groups such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi,  Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and other militant offshoots. 

Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director stated that the attacks in January and February of 2013 constituted “some of the worst killings in Pakistan’s recent history.”

A Human Rights Watch World Report on Pakistan noted that in 2013: “Religious minorities continued to face insecurity and persecution as the government failed to provide protection to those threatened or to hold extremists accountable. Islamist militant groups continued to target and kill Shia Muslims—particularly from the Hazara community—with impunity.”

Currently, the Pakistani government is holding peace talks with the TTP a militant group which has claimed the lives of thousands of Pakistanis.

For many Hazaras, persecution of their community has been met with silence. Nowhere is this felt more, than in the diaspora here at home in Canada.

Abbas Hyder, acting president of the Hazara Association of Canada, remembers
growing up in Pakistan during a time when there was no internal strife between the communities and Hazara people earned the best government jobs and had the most successful businesses.

Now, it is difficult for Hazara people to even leave their homes for work.

“You just can’t live your life like that,” Hyder explains.

Many from the Hazara community in Canada feel that besides pressuring the Pakistani government the Federal government should also take more Hazara refugees.  However, Canada has not done much to open its doors to the Hazara asylum seekers in light of recent attacks against the Hazara people, Hyder says.

An immigrant to Canada from the nineties, Hyder asserts that “Hazara Canadians are talented, assimilated, integrated and useful to Canadian society”.

The situation, continues to remain dire for those with family back home.

When asked if anyone in the Toronto community has suffered a personal loss in the tragedy, Hyder says “almost everyone who is here has directly or indirectly experienced some loss of family or relatives.”

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