Archive for October, 2005

Dear Acting Assistant Secretary Greene:

I am writing on behalf of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to urge that the United States communicate and act urgently to prevent the imminent involuntary deportation from Germany to Afghanistan of particularly vulnerable asylum seekers, including Hindu refugees who face the threat of violence upon return to Afghanistan. The imminent deportation of Afghan asylum seekers was announced earlier this month by authorities within the Federal Republic of Germany. We ask that the United States urgently communicate with the Federal Republic of Germany to halt these deportations of vulnerable populations and, in addition, that the United States take steps similar to those it took in the late 1990s to allow applications for resettlement to the United States of Bosnian refugees who had been faced with the similar threat of forcible return and deportation from Germany.

As the Commission noted in its 2005 Annual Report, the government in Kabul does not yet exercise full control over the country. Religious freedom and human rights abuses persist in regions that are effectively outside of central government control, as was evidenced recently by the brutal beheading of Hindu aid worker Maniyappan Raman Kutty from India. These substantial security threats present a persistent danger to the establishment of democracy and the rule of law throughout Afghanistan.

Religious minorities – such as Hindus and Sikhs – were severely persecuted under the Taliban, and nearly all 50,000 of them fled the country. In official remarks made in Brussels earlier this year at the Strategic Consultations Convening on Refugee and Population Movements to and from Afghanistan, then-Assistant Secretary Dewey said “that there are likely to be a significant number of Afghans for whom voluntary repatriation will not be suitable.” Assistant Secretary Dewey expressed that the United States would not like to see Afghan refugees being “put under pressure” to leave the major host countries of Iran and Pakistan.

We are now faced, however, with a situation where one of the most persecuted groups under the Taliban – the Afghan Hindu population – is facing forcible return by a third country: Germany. In Hamburg alone there are 12,000 Afghans, hundreds of them Hindus, who are now being threatened with deportation if they do not accept financial assistance to “voluntarily” return to Afghanistan.

While the German lander (states) move ahead with plans for imminent deportations, even the German Foreign Ministry reports that the situation for Afghans “continues unimproved countrywide” and that, in some provinces, “a return there is not possible without risk to life and limb.”

This situation is not unprecedented. In the late 1990’s, the German lander launched involuntary returns of Bosnian refugees at a time when other members of the international community considered it too unsafe to conduct involuntary repatriations. At that time, the United States government, after being unsuccessful in its efforts to discourage the Germans from conducting such deportations, established a processing priority for Bosnians in Germany, and saved many of them from deportation by allowing them to apply to the United States for resettlement. We would urge that the United States prevail upon the German government to stop returns of members of religious minorities persecuted under the Taliban.

To prepare for the possibility that this suggestion from the United States could go unheeded, we would also urge that the U.S. Refugee Program make preparations for the establishment of a resettlement processing priority for Afghan Hindus and members of other particularly vulnerable groups. This program could be based on the highly successful one established nearly a decade ago to protect Bosnian asylum seekers from premature deportations out of Germany.

We look forward to your timely attention to this imminent situation and to your response.


Michael Cromartie

cc: Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky

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click here for the news article in Dari from BBC

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Indo-Asian News Service

Kabul, October 5, 2005

With the onset of the nine-day Hindu festival period of Navratra, Kabul’s ancient Hindu temples, steeped in fascinating folklore, are buzzing with a record number of devotees of all faiths.

The focal attraction is Asamai temple at the foothills of Koh-i-Asamai, the central hill feature around which the Afghan capital sprawls. Hundreds of Afghanistan’s Hindus and Sikhs as well as Indians employed in reconstruction projects pay their obeisance there every day.

The hill is named Asamai after Asha, the goddess of hope said to be residing on the hilltop since time immemorial. Legend goes that the Akhand Jyoti or continuous fire there has been burning uninterrupted for over 4,000 years.

Amazingly, both the temple and the jyoti have survived numerous bloody wars for supremacy over Kabul and are haunting reminders of a time when the entire population of Afghanistan followed Hinduism.

Afghanistan was then called Ariana – a name derived from the Aryans who came and settled here from Central Asia before moving on to India.

The Asamai temple complex also houses a centuries old Panjshir Ka Jogi stone, named after a Hindu ascetic who, according to legend, was then meditating in the picturesque Panjshir valley.

Irked by the harassment of hostile locals, the good man magically turned himself into a stone one night. Taken aback, the terrified populace approached the Hindus and Sikhs of Kabul who installed the stone in the Asamai temple where it is now worshipped as a sacred wish stone.

Interestingly, it is believed that early hymns of the oldest Hindu scripture, the Rig Veda, were composed in the Herat area of Afghanistan. Herat derives its name from Hari Rud (river of Hari) that separates Afghanistan from Turkmenistan and Iran.

Two large halls with a capacity of about 1,000 persons form part of the Asamai complex, commonly used for religious congregations on festivals like Navratra and Diwali.

Kabul boasts another ancient temple complex – Harshri Nath – with temples devoted to Hindu deities Shiva, Saraswati and Ganesha.

Tucked away in the depths of the old quarters of the city, the Harshri Nath temple attracts several Hindu families who returned to Kabul over the past four years. In a shining example of communal amity, several Sikh families also faithfully visit the temple every week to pray alongside the Hindus.

Kabul’s third temple is located in the Shor Bazaar area once the hub of the trade in clothes, currency and dry fruits that is dominated by Hindus and Sikhs. Dedicated to Hindu god Shiva, the small temple miraculously survived severe shelling during the Civil War, even as the entire Shor Bazaar was reduced to rubble.

Though the local Hindu and Sikh population has dropped to about 5,000 from close to 20,000, the temple is a favourite with scores of Indians currently engaged in reconstruction work, from health and transport to telecommunication and IT.

Thanks to the large numbers of Indians in Kabul, the Sikh festival of Gurpurub was also a colourful affair last year.

Kabul’s majority Muslims led by Culture and Information Minister Makhdoom Rahin participated in the festival at Karte Parwan Gurdwara. Likewise, Diwali and the Muslim festival of Eid were celebrated with equal fervour by all communities.

This year, representatives of the Hindu and Sikh communities expect an even larger turnout. One of them enthused: “This will boost our efforts to restore the Hindu and Sikh shrines to their original glory.”

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