The slaughter of members of the Shia Muslim minority group continues unabated in AfghanistanAuthor of the article:
Ali Mirzad, Special to National PostPublishing date:
Apr 16, 2021
By Ali Mirzad
Is Canada really a beacon of hope to the destitute and hopeless?
That’s the question that Hazaras — from across Afghanistan and the slums of European and Asian asylum camps, to here at home — are asking themselves.
Ottawa’s Yasir Mehrzad, a former interpreter with the Canadian forces in Afghanistan — whose father and uncle were both killed in a targeted attack in Kabul in April 2018 — has been anxiously waiting for his sisters and severely ill mother to join him for over two years. Toronto’s Javad Ibrahimi is another Hazara-Canadian who has been waiting for over five years for his loved ones to settle in Canada.
The Hazaras, a Shia Muslim ethnic minority group in a country with a Sunni Muslim majority, have suffered over a century of perpetual persecution.
Is Canada really a beacon of hope?
In the late 18th century, dictator Abdur Rahman Khan labelled the Hazaras as kaffirs (infidels) and launched a genocidal campaign against them while displacing and selling thousands into forced slavery. In 1998 the Taliban issued a similar fatwa (decree), continuing that genocide by killing as many as 5,200 Hazaras in the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Bamyan alone.
In February 2020 the White House signed the U.S.-Taliban peace deal in Doha, Qatar, to end America’s longest war. Kabul was strong-armed to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, while the murderous group was to cease all violence. Yet despite the Taliban’s pinky promise, the UN says Afghanistan remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian.”
Last month, Canada’s Immigration Minister, Marco Mendicino, announced the approval of new policy that will allow Yazidi families in this country to sponsor extended relatives. The minister said: “By changing the policy to be more inclusive … we are showing compassion.”
Thousands of Hazaras, who are rotting in asylum camps across the globe, wonder why they are excluded from that “generous compassion.”
In 1939, William Lyon Mackenzie King‘s Liberal government turned its back on a boatload of Jewish migrants seeking refuge in Canada after fleeing Hitler’s onslaught. That ship was forced to return to Europe, where most of the passengers died in the Holocaust.
Although bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees was a Trudeau campaign promise, Liberals enthusiastically exceeded it by relocating 44,620 Syrians as of October 2020. That magnanimity has been mutually beneficial — despite several scandals such as the SNC-Lavalin affair and cabinet minister resignations, Team Trudeau did win the 2019 election.
Amidst an historical deficit — $381.6 billion — Mendicino said that Canada will welcome 1.2 million newcomers in the next three years to give the country the vital economic boost it desperately needs during this pandemic.
But who Canada let’s in is an entirely different matter.
Who Canada let’s in is an entirely different matter
If by some miracle Hazaras fleeing persecution reach a Canadian embassy, they may face new mistreatments. Stephen Watt, co-founder of Northern Lights Canada, a Toronto-based not-for-profit organization that facilitates private sponsorship, says: “Some immigration officers at Canadian embassies have insufficient knowledge or training about certain countries. They may ask questions that make little sense, given the facts on the ground, or may look for holes in the refugee’s story that don’t exist.” He added that in one situation the official cast doubts about the exact height of the refugee he was interviewing. “You said you’re 168 centimetres. But to me you look a little shorter. Why don’t you know? Something about your story just doesn’t add up.”
In a 2020 report Amnesty International stated that thousands of Afghanistani asylum-seekers were forcibly returned from Europe, either under the European Unions’ Joint Way Forward agreement (JWF) or other bilateral agreements with Afghanistan. JWF enabled host countries that did not formally recognize an asylum-seeker as a refugee — despite clear indications — to rid themselves and deport them.
Many Hazaras asylum-seekers have already been forcefully deported while others helplessly await their doom. They continue to hope that countries such as Canada will step in now, before they are returned to the Taliban’s slaughterhouse.
Predictably, the Taliban who were freed have joyfully rejoined their insurgency group, which according to the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), resulted in 8,820 civilian casualties in 2020. In 2021 UNAMA has reported: “80 per cent of civilian casualties to be of the Shi’a Muslim religious minority belonging to the Hazara ethnic group.”
In fact, last month, seven Hazara labourers were kidnapped and executed 20 kilometres east of Jalalabad. In October of last year 24 Hazara students aged between 15 and 26 were killed at the Kawsar education centre. In May 2020 a maternity ward in Dashti Barchi district, which was managed by Médecins Sans Frontières, was attacked, leaving a carnage of lifeless newborns and medical staff.
Despite an intense and costly campaign, Canada lost its 2018 bid for a seat on the UN security council. In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said throughout that campaign, his officials promoted the Canadian values of peace, freedom, democracy and human rights. If Canada wants to truly be recognized as a defender of human rights by the international community it ought to start treating every human being equally. Calculated “compassion policies” towards politically popular diasporas is but an affront to the very values for which Canadians fought defending and ultimately died for in Afghanistan.
Canada can and must do better — the lives of thousands of stateless Hazaras depend upon it.
Ali Mirzad is an Ottawa-based human rights activist and freelance writer.