Afghan president’s visit draws Hazara protests

Thousands of ethnic Hazara have descended on Canberra from around the country to rally on the lawns of Government House against a visit by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.

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“What do we want? Justice! Who do we want it for? Hazara! Who do we want it for? Hazara!”

President Ghani is in Australia to discuss security, agriculture and the empowerment of women.

But the demonstrators fear there is also a refugee deal under discussion which could lead to the long-persecuted minority being returned to the country they fled.

Najeeba Wazefadost is one of the organisers of the Hazara protests.

“If any Hazara is going to be sent back home, they will be killed. If any Hazara will be sent back home, they will be discriminated (against) and they will be persecuted, as it has been shown through all the decades. Currently, it is still happening, and it has worsened.”

There has been no official indication any refugee deal exists, but hundreds of Hazara were deported to their homeland last year after Afghanistan negotiated a deal with the European Union.

Ms Wazefadost says the protesters in Canberra also want the Australian government to be sure aid money to Afghanistan is not being spent in ways that harm Hazara people.

“I would say to Malcolm Turnbull that it is very, very important to understand the circumstances and the situation that Hazara refugees have escaped from Afghanistan and, more importantly, to ensure that the aid and the budget that is being provided to Afghanistan is spent in a way that brings transparency, equality and an end to discrimination for Hazara people.”

Protesters accuse the Afghan president of racism and ethnic hatred, with many referring to a controversial powerline that has been rerouted out of a Hazara province.

Some held signs depicting President Ghani’s face overlayed on the Nazi swastika.

But an academic with the University of Western Sydney, Dr Ehsan Azari, suggests that kind of protest can be counterproductive.

“They need to be united, to be united and to work for their own country. And I think, at this point, divisive voices will not help anyone. Even that will not help the Hazara community as well.”

The Hazara especially suffered under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Most are Shia Muslims, while the majority of Afghans practise Sunni Islam.

The Afghan president’s visit continues on Tuesday.