* Read a related special report link.reuters.com/nah53t
* Pakistan Sunni militants persecuting Hazaras in Quetta
* Thousands join boat people exodus to Australia
* But Australia wants to send them to remote Pacific islands
By Matthew Bigg, Matthew Green and James Grubel
QUETTA, Pakistan/PUNCAK,Indonesia, Oct. 25 It
was 3 a.m. when Abid Warasi and his friend clambered into an
Indonesian fishing boat, joining 300 other migrants packed into
the hold. Only a few days away by sea, Australia seemed
Six hours into the voyage, the craft overturned. The two
teenagers clung to the upturned hull. One by one, survivors lost
purchase and drifted away, their dreams swallowed by the warm
waters of the Java Sea.
"When the boat capsized, the dead bodies came floating above
the water," Warasi said, recounting his ordeal in the Indonesian
hill town of Puncak, just south of Jakarta. "Our hearts were so
sad for them and we were waiting for our own time when we would
The heroism that would ensure the pair survived 48 hours in
the water is not merely testament to the bond of friendship that
has united Warasi and Muhammad Muntaziri since their childhoods
in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Their determination is also a reflection of the ferocity of
the persecution unleashed upon their ethnic Hazara community,
who are almost all members of Pakistan's Shi'ite minority.
In the past year, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist
group, has turned Quetta into a hunting ground. Gunmen shoot
Hazaras every few days while leaflets shoved under doorways warn
they are infidels deserving of death.
Thousands choose to face the ocean's terrors rather than
risk an encounter with the death squads stalking their city's
"Mothers are selling their jewelry so that their sons can
leave Quetta for abroad," said Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the
Hazara Democratic Party, a Quetta-based political party. "We are
The 10,000-km (6,000 miles) route from Quetta to established
Hazara communities in the more genteel environs of Adelaide,
Melbourne or Sydney is just one strand in an ever-shifting web
of global migration.
But there are few starker examples of the impact troubles in
faraway lands can have on domestic politics than Australia,
where a growing influx of refugee boats has reignited a
polarising debate over immigration.
The government passed a law in August to revive a scheme to
send asylum seekers rescued at sea to detention centres on
far-flung Pacific islands.
Human rights groups condemned the move, saying people could
be left languishing in malarial camps for years, isolated from
relatives and unable to work.
Warasi and Muntaziri's sheer desperation raises questions
over how far the measures will discourage men and women whose
quest for a new life has echoes of the voyages of European
settlers to Australia in the late 18th century.
"Every day there were killings," said Warasi, recalling
life in Quetta. "We got chicken-hearted, like we were in a
A CITY DIVIDED
Overshadowed by the forbidding hills that define the wild
geography of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, Quetta was
once a town where ethnic groups and sects mingled freely. Today,
LeJ is offering Hazaras a choice: leave or die.
In the neatly swept lanes of the Hazara enclave of Mehrabad,
the fear is palpable. LeJ has turned swathes of Quetta into
virtual no-go zones for Hazaras, who number perhaps 500,000 of
the city's population of about two million.
As members of both an ethnic minority and Shi'ites, Hazaras
make particularly attractive targets for extremists.
"If you went out in the morning you cannot be sure that
you'd come back home," said Muhammad Mehdi, who closed his
childrens' clothing shop in an ethnically mixed market after
gunmen went on a shooting spree in April. Like many Hazaras, he
is now reluctant to set foot outside Mehrabad.
In the cheerfully decorated classrooms of the district's
Ummat Public School, ambitious teenage girls fear their
terrified parents will not allow them to venture into the city
to attend college.
"We can be like Mark Zuckerberg, we can be like Bill Gates,"
said Farheen, 15. "We can show the world that we are talented."
A few minutes' drive away, grave-diggers have had to open a
new section in the century-old Hazara cemetery to accommodate
the rapidly growing number of gunshot and blast victims.
Activists say at least 800-1,000 Hazaras have been killed
since 1999 and the pace is quickening. More than one hundred
have been murdered in and around Quetta since January, according
to Human Rights Watch.
The state's failure to protect them has fuelled Hazaras's
suspicions that elements within the security forces still
support LeJ, which was nurtured by intelligence agencies in the
1990s as a proxy force.
There are no official figures for the number of Hazaras who
have left for Australia, but community leaders say thousands of
people like Warasi and Muntaziri have paid people smugglers
$10,000-$15,000 to attempt the do-or-die trip.
STRUGGLE AT SEA
Following the traffickers' instructions, the friends caught
buses to Pakistan's commercial capital Karachi, then flights to
Jakarta via Malaysia.
On the night of Dec 18, 2011, they boarded the fishing boat
in the port of Surabaya. Like other migrant ships, it was bound
for Christmas Island, a speck of Australian territory in the
When the boat capsized, Muntaziri held his breath, wriggled
through a porthole and broke the surface before finding his
friend. After six hours, a fishing boat arrived and 34 people
managed to swim to it.
When he thought that Muntaziri would not make it, Warasi
swam back to the wreck, ready to drown with his friend.
"Till we both die, we will help each other," Warasi said.
Several boats passed, saw them but did not stop, Muntaziri
said. They kept up their spirits by reminiscing about growing up
in Quetta, but gradually passengers began to lose their grip on
the capsized boat. By the time a coal ferry picked them up, only
13 remained alive. They had spent 48 hours in the water.
The pair have since sought shelter at a guest house run by
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. For now, their lives are in limbo
as they wait for an immigration process that seems designed to
frustrate them. The possibility of risking all on another boat
is almost too traumatic to contemplate - but so is the prospect
of returning home.
Muntaziri, a knowledge-hungry 17-year-old who speaks five
languages, said all he wanted was to be safe.
"I am the one who has to take care of my family," he said.
"That is why I am going to Australia to start a new peaceful
life away from the terror."
Despite the risks, growing numbers of Pakistanis, Afghans,
Sri Lankans and others are attempting the journey.
Australia recorded 5,175 boat arrivals in the fiscal year to
July 2011, compared with 690 two years earlier. More than 6,000
people have arrived by boat just in the first three months of
the fiscal year that began July 1.
The passage exacts a heavy toll. About 1,000 people have
died en route from Indonesia to Christmas Island since 2001,
according to an independent report. In the disaster survived by
Warasi and Muntaziri, more than 270 were feared drowned.
Battling accusations it is soft on immigration, Prime
Minister Julia Gillard's Labor government has reactivated a plan
to process boat arrivals on Pacific islands, reneging on its
earlier opposition to it.
The "Pacific Solution" was adopted by Gillard's Conservative
predecessor John Howard, whose tough stance helped him win
elections in 2001 and 2004.
People rescued at sea are sent to detention on Manus Island
in Papua New Guinea, or the Pacific nation of Nauru. They could
spend up to five years in camps with no guarantee of final
settlement in Australia. Those granted protection will no longer
be able to sponsor their families to join them.
The first group of asylum seekers were sent to a tent city
in Nauru in mid-September. When fully operating, Nauru will
house around 1,500 people, and Manus Island about 600.
The policy aims to deter people smugglers by ensuring those
who board boats will have no better chance of living in
Australia than those who apply through official channels.
Survivors argue that many have resorted to the perilous
journey precisely because it can take many years to apply for
asylum legally, often with scant chance of success.
The debate in Australia has largely steered clear of the
sort of inflammatory rhetoric seen in the late 1990s, when one
lawmaker warned the country risked being swamped by Asians.
But not always: The host of a morning television show, Paul
Henry, suggested the government whip asylum seekers arriving in
Nauru. He later apologised.
Early signs suggest the "Pacific Solution" may be having an
impact. Two groups of Sri Lankans returned home rather than risk
being sent to an offshore camp and Hazaras in Karachi say some
are reconsidering plans to start the voyage.
"They can't imagine four years in a detention centre," said
Eltaf Hussain, a student. "Why not commit a crime in Quetta and
just be locked in jail?"
(James Grubel reported from Canberra; writing by Matthew Green;
editing by Bill Tarrant)