Ali Mirzad is an Ottawa-based Hazara human rights activist.
Precisely a year ago, on the morning of Aug. 15, 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked into the Governor-General’s residence at Rideau Hall to ask for the dissolution of Canada’s 43rd Parliament. Over 10,400 kilometres away, the Taliban were well on their way to Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul, and once more reclaimed the power of that country.
Just two days before calling for the dissolution of Parliament, the Liberal Government took the lead on the international stage with a bold commitment to resettle 20,000 of Afghanistan’s most at-risk and vulnerable people in Canada.
“Our commitment to the people of Afghanistan, including women and girls and LGBTQ2 communities, remains unwavering. … Our ongoing work to bring them to safety in Canada remains a top priority; we are committed to Afghanistan and to its people,” said a Liberal statement that week.
The following month, Mr. Trudeau’s government wowed the UN General Assembly by increasing its resettlement pledge to 40,000 Afghans. Yet, to this day, just 17,170 Afghan refugees have resettled in Canada, and mostly through private sponsorships.
Not only has the Liberal government failed to deliver on its bold commitments, it has also betrayed the trust of all the vulnerable women, children and persecuted minorities who had clung to Mr. Trudeau’s campaign promise.
In July, the Taliban launched a genocidal campaign against the Hazaras, an ethnic and religious minority, in Afghanistan’s Balkhab district. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as many as 27,000 innocent civilians, most of them Hazaras, have been forced to flee their homes and take refuge in the mountains.
The Hazaras are an Indigenous community whose history predates the creation of the modern state of Afghanistan. With their distinct Asiatic facial features and religious beliefs, Hazaras have long been considered outcasts and infidel heretics, for which they have been punished by a century-and-a-half of unjust physical, mental and psychological abuse.
In the late 19th century, through dictator Abdul Rahman Khan’s genocidal campaign, a vast number of Hazaras were slaughtered while many thousands more were forcefully displaced and enslaved. Then, in the 1990s, they were the subject of yet another ethnic cleansing campaign, this time by the Taliban. At the time, Human Rights Watch estimated that as many as 8,000 Hazaras were rounded up and butchered in the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan alone.
Every year, for 10 consecutive days during the month of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar), a vast number of Muslims – roughly 200 million globally – commemorate the tragic loss of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. On Aug. 6, the seventh day of Muharram, thousands of worshippers, including Hazaras, gathered in western Kabul’s Sar-e-Karez district to commemorate and reflect on the sacrifice of Imam Hussein. After a bomb blast pierced through the crowd, the death toll was estimated to be over 100 people, with many more severely injured. The very next day, Hazara mourners were again the victims of another terror attack in western Kabul’s Pul-e-sukhta district – only seven minutes away from the previous day’s blast.
These recent heinous incidents join a long list of perpetual and systematic attacks against religious minorities in Afghanistan.
In June, a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan cited evidence from Global Affairs Canada that acknowledged a rise in attacks against Hazaras, and not just by the Taliban. “There has been a recent spike in deadly attacks against Hazara and Shi’a Muslim communities by the Islamic State-Khorosan Province,” the report noted, adding that the attacks “come in addition to broader issues of persecution, discrimination, forced conversions and targeted attacks that ethnic and religious minorities face in Afghanistan at the hands of armed groups.”
For almost a year now, NGOs and Parliamentarians have repeatedly implored the Canadian government to waive restrictions on refugee status determination for those who have miraculously managed to flee the Taliban. This would enable Canadian citizens and NGOs to sponsor desperate Hazaras stranded across Pakistani and Iranian borders.
Mr. Trudeau’s government insists it is dealing with an impossible situation in Afghanistan, since Canada has no official representatives inside the country and the Taliban has been violently hostile toward people who assisted Canadian efforts there.
It is true that the Liberal government cannot evacuate those trapped behind the Taliban’s walls. But it has also strategically ignored people it could actually help – the thousands of highly vulnerable and at-risk individuals, such as the Hazaras, who have fled but remain in limbo in refugee camps.
While Canada continues to fail in delivering on its moral obligations, the persecuted Hazaras – who have historically been deprived of basic human rights – must continue to live each day in the midst of persecution and tragedy.
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