Fearful of Taliban, targeted by ISIS, persecuted Hazaras flee Afghanistan

Click to play video: 'Fears for future of women in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan' Fears for future of women in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan
When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan two months ago, they vowed to respect women and girls, despite a history of oppressing them. But human rights groups, as well as Afghans who have fled the country, paint a far gloomier picture of the future. Jeff Semple reports from Islamabad, Pakistan. – Oct 15, 2021

Down a narrow street in Bhara Kahu, on the northeast edge of Islamabad, a smiling man named Mustafa guided a reporter through a stairwell to a second-floor apartment.

The shoes amassed at the front door were the first sign it was a crowded place.

Inside, there was little in the way of furniture, only pillows, and eight families of refugees with the distinctive features of Afghan Hazaras.

Sacks of donated flour and rice leaned against a wall. A ceiling fan whirled, battling the afternoon heat.

Mohammad Ishaq sat on the carpet with his legs crossed, bandaging his left wrist with white gauze.

A girl living at an apartment filled with Hazara refugees from Afghanistan. Jeff Semple/Global News

He said it was broken by the Taliban when they came to his house in Kabul, asking for his daughters.

He tried to bluff them, claiming he had no children. But the Taliban saw all the shoes by the door. They accused him of lying and attacked him, he said.

After they left, the family fled for the Pakistan border.

The cramped apartment Ishaq now shares with other poor families in the Pakistani capital has become a makeshift refugee camp for Afghans.

All are ethnic Hazaras, who make up almost a tenth of Afghanistan’s population but are a persecuted minority.

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Read more: At an Islamabad hotel, Afghans who worked for Canada’s military await a new life

The return of the Taliban to power in August has stoked fears among Hazaras, who have long been mistreated for their ethnicity and Shia faith.

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, it declared “jihad” against Hazaras, and abuses and mass killings followed.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hazaras were part of the U.S.-backed North Alliance that ousted the Taliban, and they were represented in the new government.

But they have continued to face repression, as well as horrific violence – much of it recently attributed to the Islamic State faction in Afghanistan, ISIS-K.

The terror group claimed responsibility for bombing a Shia mosque in Kunduz on Oct. 8, and a similar attack that killed more than 40 in Kandahar on Friday.

Click to play video: 'Suicide bomber kills 46 at Afghanistan mosque, wounds more than 140' Suicide bomber kills 46 at Afghanistan mosque, wounds more than 140
Suicide bomber kills 46 at Afghanistan mosque, wounds more than 140 – Oct 8, 2021

The Taliban’s official spokesperson denounced the latest bombing on Twitter, calling it a crime, and said security forces had been ordered to arrest those behind it.

A baby on her lap, Marzia said her husband, a driver, was killed in a bombing in the Hazara district of Kabul three-and-a-half months ago.

She did not know who was responsible, but several attacks occurred in the Hazara neighborhood Dasht-e-Barchi around that time. The bombing of a girls’ school in May killed almost 100.

Widowed and broke, Marzia said she sold everything she had and crossed into Pakistan. She said she was afraid of the Taliban and didn’t want to go back to Afghanistan.

I came here because I don’t have anybody,” she said.

Islamabad’s Bhara Kahu neighborhood. Jeff Semple/Global News

Supported by locals who donate food and put them up in vacant rooms, the apartment residents have asked the United Nations refugee agency to resettle them in other countries.

But they face challenges in Pakistan while they wait.

A 2018 report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights lamented a “sharp increase in sectarian violence” between Shia Hazaras and the country’s Sunni majority.

“Hazaras have consistently been targeted by terrorists and religious fanatics since 1999 through suicide bombings and targeted killings, with more than 2,000 having reportedly been killed in the last 14 years,” it said.

The Canadian government has vowed to resettle 40,000 Afghans, notably those who worked for Canada’s military, but also vulnerable groups such as persecuted minorities.

Global National’s Jeff Semple films Hazara refugees at an Islamabad apartment,. Stewart Bell/Global News

Asked how many Hazaras were being resettled through the program, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not answer.

A spokesperson said 2,400 Afghans had arrived so far.

“We will continue to do everything we can to support Afghan refugees and show Canadian leadership in the face of this humanitarian crisis,” Peter Liang said.

But the Canadian Hazara Humanitarian Service said thousands of Hazaras were “either prisoners inside the Taliban’s lair or refugees in despair across neighbouring borders.”

The non-profit group has been fundraising to bring more Hazaras to Canada.

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“Our non-profit organization has been flooded with messages and cries for help by Hazaras in Afghanistan as well as Hazara-Canadians that have loved ones stranded back home,” the group said on its Go Fund Me page.

Shoes at the entrance to an Islamabad apartment where Hazara refugees wait to be resettled. Jeff Semple/Global News

At the house for Hazara refugees, a man hobbled into a room on crutches carrying an X-ray. He said he was running away from an explosion in Kabul when he fell and broke his leg.

His son worked as a truck driver for the International Security Assistance Force in Bagram, he said. The family feared retribution from the Taliban and fled to Pakistan.

On the day they left, they saw the Taliban breaking into homes, looking for people, he said.

Leila, another resident of the refugee house, said she believed Hazara women would be forced to marry Taliban men.

For Hazaras, life was already hard before the Taliban took over the country, Leila said. Their schools, hospitals and mosques were under attack.

Now the Taliban is back in power, she said there was no hope.

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca