Afghan Hazaras lose homes as persecution grows under Taliban rule

Members of ethnic minority say they are being forced to abandon houses and farms by Taliban fighters

Afghan refugees  living in Indonesia hold posters during a rally outside the building that houses UNHCR representative office in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Aug.  24, 2021.  The protesters were mostly members of the Hazara ethnic minority. AP
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In early October, a knock on the door of Murtuza Rezaie’s ancestral home in Afghanistan's Helmand province upturned his life.

“It was the Taliban fighters, and they told us to leave the house and hand it over to them,” the farmer, 26, told The National.

"We were given a few hours to leave and only allowed to take the bare essentials and nothing more. We were not even allowed to bring our livestock or crops."

He was speaking by phone from the outskirts of the provincial capital, where his family and other displaced Hazaras were camping temporarily.

“They gave no reason why we were being thrown out of our home but, knowing how brutal they can get, we were forced to leave,” he said.

Mr Rezaie's family is among 150 Hazara households that were forcibly displaced by the Taliban in Helmand. The ethnic minority, who are largely adherents of the Shia sect of Islam, have long faced persecution in Afghanistan.

Without proper shelter or assistance, their group is facing starvation, Mr Rezaie said.

“Right now we are roaming these mountains without food, water, or anything," he said.

"The nights are so cold. Our children are sick, and we already lost one baby to hunger this week. If we don’t get immediate support, we will very soon have more casualties.”

Since they seized power in August, the Taliban have forcibly displaced residents in Helmand and at least four other provinces.

Many of the raids have been aimed at the Hazara community, "as well as people associated with the former government", Human Rights Watch said in a report on Friday.

Apart from Helmand, the watchdog documented similar evictions in Uruzgan, Kandahar, Daykundi and Balkh.

“They have told many Hazaras and other residents in these five provinces to leave their homes and farms, in many cases with only a few days’ notice and without any opportunity to present their legal claims to the land,” HRW said.

Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW, said the Taliban are forcibly evicting Hazaras and others "on the basis of ethnicity or political opinion to reward Taliban supporters”.

“These evictions, carried out with threats of force and without any legal process, are serious abuses that amount to collective punishment,” she said.

Hazara families among thousands of Afghans who flee their homes for fear of the Taliban

Hazara families among thousands of Afghans who flee their homes for fear of the Taliban

While the Taliban deny the forced evictions, the hardline militants have a history of persecuting Hazaras.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International reported that Taliban forces unlawfully killed 13 Hazaras, most of them Afghan soldiers who had surrendered.

Khairullah Khairkhwa, the Taliban's acting minister of culture and information, said on Wednesday that “so far no one has been forcibly evicted from their home” by the group.

Any evictions that have take place "have been rooted in local disputes over property and these disputes can be resolved with the intervention of court order if needed,” he told reporters while attending talks in Moscow.

Mr Rezaie rejected the minister’s claim.

“We do not have any dispute within the villages or with anyone over property or land,” he insisted.

We are just as Helmandi as anyone else from this province; the only thing is that we are Hazaras
Murtuza Rezaie, farmer evicted in Helmand

“Neither are we armed, and no one from our villages was even part of the previous government or security forces. We are just as Helmandi as anyone else from this province; the only thing is that we are Hazaras,” he said.

No other tribe or ethnic group in the region had been evicted, he said.

“This goes to show how much they dislike us,” he said.

Since the Taliban takeover, Hazaras have faced increased threats and attacks not just from the Taliban but also from the Afghan branch of ISIS. The extremist group claimed two suicide bombings this month at Shiite mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar that claimed more 120 lives.

“How can you blow up people when they are in God’s house, praying to the same God you believe in and practicing the same religion as you?” said Ali Hussain, 31, whose son was killed in the Kandahar attack.

“We have been targeted for decades irrespective of who is in power. I don’t know why being a Shia is a crime in Afghanistan. I watched my child vanish in blood in front of my eyes.”

In May, two of Mr Hussain's young cousins were killed in the bombing of a girls' school in a predominantly Hazara district of Kabul. While no group claimed responsibility, and the government blamed the Taliban, ISIS is known to have frequently aimed at the area.

Mr Hussain, who returned to Afghanistan from a refugee camp in Pakistan after the 2001-led invasion that toppled the Taliban's previous regime, is uncertain of his future now that the hardline group is back in power.

“I don’t want to leave again. Why should I have to leave just because I am Hazara. This is our country too, but we are only offered sorrow,” he said, breaking down in tears.

Mr Rezaie echoed his sentiment.

“We have lived in these mountains for decades, I was born and raised here, but now I’m homeless and the winter is upon us,” he said.

“We appeal to the Taliban and the international community to intervene. We don’t want anything except what is already ours.”

Updated: October 24, 2021, 12:46 PM