Rachel Smalley: Humanity comes first

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Afghan ethnic Hazara's are on a hunger strike in protest in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo / AP
Afghan ethnic Hazara's are on a hunger strike in protest in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo / AP

The first time I encountered Hazara was in Kabul in 2008. I had placed my life in the hands of Khalib, an Afghan translator, who had bundled me into the back of his 1980s Datsun Sunny and was driving me around pot-holed streets to interview women involved in the war.

He stopped at a military road block and I watched a timid group of women approach each car, begging for food. They were tiny, almost childlike and their features were distinctly Mongolian.

"I don't understand," I said to Khalib. "Are they Afghan?"

"Yes," he said. "Hazara. They came here with Genghis Khan's Mongolian army, but they are Shia Muslims and the Sunni extremists don't like them."

The peace-loving Hazara have been persecuted for centuries. There have been many massacres across Central Asia and they are still persecuted - 85 Hazara were rounded up and shot dead in Pakistan this week.

Helen Clark considers the decision to take some of the Tampa refugees one of her proudest moments. And so she should. They were pawns in a game of political point-scoring in Australia. New Zealand signalled humanity came first. The politics could be dealt with later.

And now we have a small, thriving Hazara community here. This country gave them freedom from persecution. And that is something we should all be immensely proud of.

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