Five-year-old Mohammad Raza is holding a photograph of his uncle Sadiq Ali. He believes his uncle is in Australia and that he will soon send a toy airplane. But his grandmother knows that Sadiq Ali is detained abroad. Sadiq left, she says, because he didn’t see any hope for his future in Pakistan.
“It was a tough time for him here,” she says, “He ran his own shop but got tired of having no work because the area was unsafe. So he left the country.”
Sadiq, 22, is part of the Shia Hazara community in Quetta, a town in southwestern Pakistan. He wanted to become an actor, but like many other young talented Hazaras here, the rising number of attacks forced him to give up his dreams. The final straw was the winter day he opened his shop and found a letter on the counter. It was a note from extremists threatening him to leave or face death.
A few weeks ago his family gathered to celebrate Eid, but with Sadiq gone there is sadness within the family during what is supposed to be a happy time. “He is my son and a part of my heart. He is my eldest child. I miss him all the time, not only on Eid,” Sadiq’s mother says. “I haven’t forgotten him, not even for a single minute. He is my nice and obedient son. I am always worried whether he has eaten or not, whether he has managed to sleep.”
The mineral-rich province of Quetta has long been targeted by the Taliban, and over recent years, the province has seen a number of attacks against the Hazara, who are singled out because they are Shia muslims are a easily recognized because of their distinct facial features and light skin. In 2013, suicide bombers targeted a snooker shop and the busy market in Quetta, killing around 100 men and women. Nearly 120 people were also injured in the attacks.
Thousands of Hazaras have since fled to other cities in Pakistan and are living in hiding. And for some Hazara parents, like Sadiq Ali’s father, they are sending their young children out of the country if they can.
“I was confused about whether to send him abroad or not when he was living with us. But in the end I sent him because his life was in danger,” the father explains. “Here he could not even go to the market and would remain indoors all the time due to threats.”
An estimated 100,000 Hazaras, mostly young men in their early 20s, have migrated to other countries in the past three decades. Sadiq Ali’s journey began after the September 2013 attacks. He left with 12 of his friends, traveling through Iran and Qatar and then to Malaysia and Indonesia.
From there they tried to take a boat illegally to Australia but were arrested at sea. Since then, Sadiq has been living in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, in a shelter run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Sadiq and his family are in frequent communication via WhatsApp or Skype. Even though they miss him, the family says they don’t want him to come back.
“We sent him to go to the Australia because of the poor security situation in the Quetta,” his mother says. “When he was here every day he would advise the siblings to look after their parents if he gets killed. It’s safer for him to live in Australia because the situation in Quetta is very bad.”