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Archive for July, 2006

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Press Release

German Deportation Order on Afghan Refugees Unconscionable

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 18, 2006) – In a June 28, 2006 memo sent by Senator for Internal Affairs, Mr. Udo Nagel, in Hamburg, Germany, it is noted that Hamburg will immediately begin to offer voluntary return to Afghan refugee families obligated to leave Germany, and if the refugees decline the offer, Hamburg would deport the refugees against their will. The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) demanded the immediate rescission of this order.

“This cold-hearted government order ignores the prevailing conditions in Afghanistan, which seems to be fast returning to a state of lawlessness and violence. The German threat to deport Afghan refugees comes despite the U.S. State Department’s advice to German authorities to reconsider the fate of the refugees”, said Ramesh Rao, Member, Executive Council, Hindu American Foundation.

Among the many Afghan refugees are Hindu-Afghan refugees who will face even more dire conditions if they return voluntarily to Afghanistan or are deported to Afghanistan. In a recently released report on Hindu human rights, “Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights (2005)”, HAF stated that many Hindus currently do not send their children to school in Afghanistan fearing persecution and ridicule. Hindu temples and Hindu crematory grounds have been occupied by Muslims, and the Afghanistan Government under President Hamid Karzai is seeking to re-open the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a Taliban era office that meted out medieval forms of harsh punishment for acts considered offensive according to Sharia law.

“The U.S. State Department should immediately oppose the proposed German measures and encourage a more humanitarian policy for a people that have suffered too much already,” said Ramesh Rao.

The Hindu American Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3), non-partisan organization, promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.

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Source

Friday July 13, 2007 (0252 PST)

NEW YORK,: A Washington-based Hindu Human Rights advocacy group has urged the governments of Britain and Germany not to force Afghan Hindu and Sikh refugees to return to Afghanistan. The third annual report of the Hindu America Foundation HAF — also urged the US to impress upon British and German Governments to stop involuntary deportation of Hindu refugees from these countries.

The situation in Afghanistan has improved considerably under the government of President Hamid, but conditions are still not conducive enough for Hindu and Sikh minorities to return to their homes, Ramesh Rao of the HAF said. Referring to portions of the report on Afghanistan, Rao alleged Britain and Germany were forcing Afghan Hindu and Sikh refugees to return as, according to them, things had improved. But this is not the reality, he claimed.

There are no facilities to provide restitution and resettlements of Afghan Hindus, were they to return from exile. The resurgence of the Taliban further renders the Hindu population vulnerable, the report argued. According to the document, Hindu temples destroyed by Taliban have not been rebuilt and several are occupied by Muslim groups leaving nearly no Hindu institutions or places of worship accessible to the minority.

Existing Hindu temples and institutions in Afghanistan must be restored and rehabilitated, the HAF demanded. It said Hindus did not send their children to public schools in Afghanistan for fear of persecution and ridicule.

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Christians live in fear

Source
BY JAMES RUPERT
Newsday Staff Correspondent

July 9, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan — A few months after U.S. forces helped overthrow the Taliban regime here, a young, educated Afghan eagerly joined the thousands returning from exile to build a new, peaceful, tolerant Afghanistan. The United States had promised its help and pushed a liberal politician, Hamid Karzai, into the presidency.

Feeling liberated by his hopes for Afghanistan’s future, the young man got foolish, he now says. He quietly told a few friends that, during his years of exile in Pakistan, he had found spiritual guidance in the Bible and had converted from Islam to Christianity.

Four years later a closeted Christian community of perhaps 100 people lives here in terror, especially after this spring, when another of its members, named Abdurrahman, was threatened with trial and execution for religious treason. The United States and other governments leaned on Afghan authorities, who instead declared him insane and deported him.

Even that compromise triggered such an uproar here that it will not be repeated, said the young man, who insisted on meeting in secret and asked to be identified only by the Christian name he has taken: John. “If a second [person] among us says publicly that he is a Christian, the government and people will not let him live,” he said.

Afghan liberal intellectuals, notably women, and the Hindu and Sikh religious minorities push quietly these days to broaden Afghan notions of tolerance. But the Afghan Christians, who John said are mostly men, converted by Western missionaries in Pakistan during the 1980s and ’90s, have no choice but to hide.

President Karzai may be a moderate backed by the United States and other foreign governments. But in ousting the Taliban and recreating the Afghan state, Washington has depended heavily on Islamic militant warlords who thus remain in power alongside Karzai. And the political mood of Afghans these days is easily turned to violence against any foreign influence. Especially given the world’s many Muslim-Western conflicts, “ordinary people are very emotional about defending Islam” from any perceived slight, “even with violence,” John said.

Afghan converts to Christianity cannot speak of their beliefs even to loved ones.

“Two or three times I tried to share my faith with my wife, but she will not discuss this,” John said.

Small groups of Christians used to gather secretly to pray, but have stopped even this since the crisis over Abdurrahman.

Now, John fears being identified publicly as a Christian.

“On the street, people will point and say that I am one of them. ” Or, he said, “they ask me, ‘Why don’t we see you at the mosque? ‘”

“One day I went to visit my uncle and he came to his door and asked me why I was there,” John said. “I said ‘I came to see you. ‘ He told me, ‘I have heard something about you. If it is false, you may come inside. If it is true, I don’t want to talk to you. ‘ I told him that I should probably go.”

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Thirty years of war, discrimination led by Islamic militants have taken toll on Afghan’s religious minorities
BY JAMES RUPERT
Newsday World Correspondent

July 9, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan — Zablon Simintov turned from the television one recent Sunday evening to gaze out a window at the darkened sky. “Akhir-i-Shabbat” – “the end of the Sabbath,” he grunted.

With that, Afghanistan’s last known Jew gathered a prayer book, candles and a bottle of his homemade wine in the bare, upstairs room of the decaying synagogue where he lives. He began his prayers.

Across the city, Sado Singh and his family camp out in the desolate ruin of a huge Sikh temple, one of about 10 in Kabul that once hummed with prayer, schooling and festivals. Singh hopes the bulk of Afghan Sikhs, now exiled in India or the West, may return some day, but “the conditions are very difficult and we don’t know whether they will get better,” he said.

Religious minorities dwindle

Thirty years of war, plus intolerance fueled by Islamic militant groups, has nearly eliminated Afghanistan’s traditional religious minorities. As the United States and its allies try to build a modern, tolerant state to replace that of the Taliban, the few non-Muslim Afghans who remain voice only faint hopes of restoring their communities.

Part of the problem with tolerance is who’s selling it. With all the frictions between Western nations – especially the United States – and the Muslim world, many Muslims fear the modernization and liberalization being pushed here are simply a Western attempt to undermine their country’s Islamic character.

U.S. “human rights abuses at Guantanamo and at Bagram , bombings of civilians are exploited by fundamentalist groups … to mobilize Afghans against all foreigners,” said Mir Ahmed Joyenda, an Afghan member of parliament. The past year’s Danish newspaper cartoons of the prophet Muhammad and reports of U.S. troops abusing the Koran also have “hurt the dignity of Muslims, and Afghans are very concerned with keeping their dignity,” Joyenda said.

These sentiments fueled the backlash this spring after an Afghan man declared he had converted to Christianity. Many Afghans clamored for his execution.

As in other Muslim countries, religious minorities for centuries were a central part of life in Afghan towns, treated with a mix of tolerance, segregation and discrimination. As many as 40,000 Jews lived in Afghanistan in the mid-1800s, although periods of repression led the vast majority to emigrate in the century that followed.

“When I was a kid, we still had 500 [Jewish] families living in Herat,” Afghanistan’s westernmost city, in a community that felt complete and vibrant, Simintov said.

But emigration, notably to Israel, continued and all but a handful of Jews left during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and the terror that followed during the 1990s, when first the U.S.-backed Afghan mujahideen guerrillas and then the Taliban took power.

News isn’t encouraging

Simintov, a paunchy, balding 46-year-old, interrupted his Sabbath night prayers to watch the Persian-language news on the channel Deutsche Welle. As on most days now, the Afghan news was about the new aggressiveness of the Taliban guerrillas.

Simintov grimaced. The United States and its ally, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, failed to follow through on their initial defeat of the Taliban in 2001, he said. “The government is still full of these jihadi warlords … Not only Jews, but everyone fears the Taliban could come back” into power.

“My friends are gone to Israel. I talk to them sometimes and they want to come back,” Simintov said, switching the TV channel. “But they’re not doing it because they’re afraid of the situation.”

It’s not entirely clear why Simintov has stayed.

“I went to Israel for two months. I had Passover with my family. I came back and was going to move to Israel, but I got stuck,” he said. “Family problems, money problems.”

But Simintov also feels himself the guardian of the last synagogue in Afghanistan still in Jewish hands. The two-story building on Flower Street – a bazaar of small groceries and antique shops – is unmarked and unrecognizable unless a visitor’s eye picks out the Stars of David worked subtly into some of the brickwork.

A few roses grow in a dusty courtyard garden, but the old sanctuary is locked and dark.

“I still hope that Jews will return and revive this place,” Simintov said.

At Shor Bazaar, once a bustling Sikh community, five Sikh families camp, much like Simintov, as impoverished caretakers of their dilapidated temple. The Khalsa Gurdwara is a looming, shattered, concrete shell. Bright, hot sunlight pours through holes blasted by mortars in the roof, slanting into empty, dusty halls where thousands of Sikhs once celebrated religious festivals.

The men eke out a little cash as street merchants. And they labor to slowly clear a few rooms in the temple and make them habitable. They’ve paid about $2,300 in fees and bribes to get city officials to connect water pipes and electrical lines to the temple, said Satwan Singh, 33. But “we’ve been waiting for months and we’ve gotten nothing,” he said.

“Muslims taunt our boys as ‘potato-heads,'” making fun of the Sikhs’ head-coverings, Singh said, “and their children throw stones at the gurdwara.” And Singh, like the other Sikhs camped in the temples of Shor Bazaar, is a refugee from the eastern town of Khost, where local Muslims seized properties of Sikh and Hindu traders two years ago.

Lack of services

But even more than such racism, Singh and others said, it’s the continued collapse of government and its services that threatens their community.

Singh worked as a street vendor until city officials ordered him to move his wooden stall. But just like water and electricity, “you can’t get a new permit [for street vending] without paying a big bribe,” he said. Karzai’s government acknowledges that corruption is one of its biggest problems.

Of 200,000 Sikhs and Hindus who lived in Kabul in the 1980s, “we now have 360 families, fewer than 1,000 people, left,” said Avtar Singh, leader of the city’s Sikh community. (Singh is the most common Sikh name and Avtar, Satwan and Sado are unrelated.)

Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus in exile “must have some real hope of making a good life” before they will return, said Satwan Singh.

“How can I hope?” he asked. “I have three kids and I can’t send them to any school. I am ready to move from here to any place where I can take care of my family.”

 

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Source
By SSNews, newsday
Jul 9, 2006, 20:07

Sado Singh and his family camp out in the desolate ruin of a huge Sikh temple, one of about 10 in Kabul that once hummed with prayer, schooling and festivals. Singh hopes the bulk of Afghan Sikhs, now exiled as refugees in India or the West, may return some day, but “the conditions are very difficult and we don’t know whether they will get better,” he said.

Historic ties

Sikhs have lived in Afghanistan for centuries, with the majority originally migrating westwards to the central Asian country from India and what is now Pakistan.

Under the Taliban, Sikh men were forced to wear yellow turbans and yellow salwar kameez [long tunic-like shirt and baggy trousers] while women were made to wear burqas.

Sikh women who did not adhere to this stringent dress code were as susceptible to street beatings by Taliban police as other Afghan women.

Religious minorities dwindle

Thirty years of war, plus intolerance fueled by Islamic militant groups, has nearly eliminated Afghanistan’s traditional religious minorities. As the United States and its allies try to build a modern, tolerant state to replace that of the Taliban, the few non-Muslim Afghans who remain voice only faint hopes of restoring their communities.

News isn’t encouraging

At Shor Bazaar, once a bustling Sikh community, five Sikh families camp, as impoverished caretakers of their dilapidated temple. The Khalsa Gurdwara is a looming, shattered, concrete shell. Bright, hot sunlight pours through holes blasted by mortars in the roof, slanting into empty, dusty halls where thousands of Sikhs once celebrated religious festivals.

The men eke out a little cash as street merchants. And they labor to slowly clear a few rooms in the temple and make them habitable. They’ve paid about $2,300 in fees and bribes to get city officials to connect water pipes and electrical lines to the temple, said Satwan Singh, 33. But “we’ve been waiting for months and we’ve gotten nothing,” he said.

“Muslims taunt our boys as ‘potato-heads,'” making fun of the Sikhs’ head-coverings, Singh said, “and their children throw stones at the Gurdwara.” And Singh, like the other Sikhs camped in the temples of Shor Bazaar, is a refugee from the eastern town of Khost, where local Muslims seized properties of Sikh and Hindu traders two years ago.

Lack of services

But even more than such racism, Singh and others said, it’s the continued collapse of government and its services that threatens their community.

Singh worked as a street vendor until city officials ordered him to move his wooden stall. But just like water and electricity, “you can’t get a new permit [for street vending] without paying a big bribe,” he said. Karzai’s government acknowledges that corruption is one of its biggest problems.

Of 200,000 Sikhs and Hindus who lived in Kabul in the 1980s, “we now have 360 families, fewer than 1,000 people, left,” said Avtar Singh, leader of the city’s Sikh community.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says 88% of India’s 9700 Afghan refugees are Sikhs and Hindu.

Afghanistan’s Sikhs in exile “must have some real hope of making a good life” before they will return, said Satwan Singh.

“How can I hope?” he asked. “I have three kids and I can’t send them to any school. I am ready to move from here to any place where I can take care of my family.”

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By Rajeshree Sisodia in Kabul

Sunday 09 July 2006, 14:05 Makka Time, 11:05 GMT

After living in Afghanistan for more than two centuries, economic hardship is pushing many in the country’s dwindling Sikh community to emigrate to India, their spiritual homeland.

Gurdyal Singh appears no different from any other Afghan man, complete with his black-as-coal beard and an immaculately tied scarlet turban.

But the 40-year-old father-of-four chuckles as he clears up the mistaken belief that he is a Muslim.

“I am Sikh but I think of myself as being Afghan,” he says as he tends to a Sikh temple in the Karta Pawan district of the capital.

The Guru Nanak Durbar Gurdwara, tucked away in a quiet corner of central Kabul for the last 25 years, is one of around 43 Sikh and Hindu temples in Afghanistan.

“We speak [the north Indian language] Punjabi at home but we can speak [the Afghan languages of] Dari and Pashtun.”

A caretaker at the gurdwara, or temple, Gurdyal is one of a handful of Sikhs who has remained after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Afghanistan, he says, is the country of his birth and the home where his family has lived for generations.

Historic ties

Sikhs have lived in Afghanistan for centuries, with the majority originally migrating westwards to the central Asian country from India and what is now Pakistan.

About 80% of Afghans are Sunni Muslim, 19% are Shia and 1% are listed as “other”

Source: US State Department
A small minority of Sikhs were Afghan Muslims who converted, according to historians in Kabul.

Nilab Rahimi, chief of Kabul library, explains that Afghanistan’s near-porous border with India until the advent of the British Raj helped the free flow of people and culture between the two nations.

“Before, we had lots of Sikhs and Buddhists. We had very open contact with India, for centuries. Some [Afghans] converted to Sikhism,” he told Aljazeera.net.

Exodus of minorities

But since 1979, when the Soviets invaded the country to support a government allied with Moscow, Sikhs have been leaving in large numbers.

The exodus increased in 1992, when the Soviet-backed government collapsed, and again in 1996, when the repressive Taliban theocracy ruled the country.

“Before the Taliban there were around 500,000 Sikhs in Afghanistan … now there are few,” said Rahimi.

Minority religions in Afghanistan suffered under Taliban rule, as the destruction of the 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha in Bamiyan province five years ago showed.

With Muslims accounting for 99% of the Afghanistan’s 30 million people, the country’s new sharia-based constitution recognises Islam as a sacred religion.

But Afghan law, drafted after the fall of the Taliban, also guarantees freedom of religion to the nation’s small Sikh, Hindu, Jewish and Christian communities.

Despite the recent imprisonment of Abdur Rahman, an Afghan who converted from Islam to Christianity, many religious minorities now experience little or no religious persecution in the country.

The Taliban

It was a different story under the Taliban, when men in Sikh and Hindu communities were forced to wear yellow turbans and yellow salwar kameez [long tunic-like shirt and baggy trousers] while women were made to wear burqas.

Sikh women who did not adhere to this stringent dress code were as susceptible to street beatings by Taliban police as other Afghan women.

But the Taliban, perhaps surprisingly, did not close down the Guru Nanak Durbar Gurdwara. Sikh Afghan leaders are at a loss to explain why.

“The Taliban never bothered us. We were always okay. The Taliban did not close the gurdwara, they let us be,” Gurdyal explains as two Muslim women clad in blue burqas enter the gurdwara grounds, removing their shoes at the gate, to seek blessings to heal their sick children.

Gurdyal carefully guides one young mother carrying a small boy in her arms.

“It is better now than it was before [under the Taliban],” Gurdyal says, explaining that Sikhs are relieved they no longer have to abide by repressive codes.

However, while Gurdyal and the rest of Afghanistan’s Sikh community have endured civil war and repressive governments over the years, a new force threatens to further reduce their already dwindling numbers – economic hardship.

Economic instability

Sikhs who left Afghanistan since the Taliban was deposed by a US invasion in 2001 cite economic instability and lawlessness – not the threat of communal violence – as reasons for their departure.

Official figures estimate that the country is beleaguered by up to 50% unemployment while around 80% of the population is illiterate.

 

Lawlessness has contributed to
the exodus of Sikhs
The British Department for International Development says as many as 40% of rural Afghans are malnourished.

Despite the Afghan government and UN agencies making tentative inroads in establishing schools and health clinics throughout the country’s 34 provinces, 70% of Afghans continue to live on less than $2 a day.

Enormous aid packages promised by the international community have failed to materialise for ordinary Afghans, with many feeling little effect of the billions of dollars earmarked for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

According to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), 70% of Afghans rely on agriculture as a means of income, but the country is still reeling from particularly harsh drought seasons in the past four years leaving many impoverished.

Vanishing affluence

Afghanistan’s persistent poverty levels, few economic prospects and increasing levels of violence by a resurgent Taliban have hit the Sikhs, as well as the Muslim majority, community hard.

Sikhs have always prided themselves as influential members of the commercial community in Afghanistan, particularly in the clothing and currency exchange business.

Many shops and general stores were owned by Sikhs before the upheaval of the 1990s. Since then many have fled to India and the West in search of better lives.

After the fall of the Taliban, some returned only to find their homes, shops and property destroyed by war.

With few economic prospects and a resurgent Taliban threat, many Sikhs chose to leave Afghanistan opting for India, their spiritual homeland and where they still have ties.

Minorities dwindling

Manjeet Kalra, 48, left Kabul five years ago with husband Swaran Singh, 52, daughter Sanya, 16, and son Daman, 15, hoping to escape rampant crime, slow economic growth and unemployment.

Sikhs have been influential in the
currency exchange business
But they were forced to return to Afghanistan recently after almost four-and-half-years in the West after both the British and Dutch governments denied their refugee applications.

“Afghanistan is no good. I don’t want to be here. We don’t have anything here in Afghanistan,” she told Aljazeera.net.

“I don’t think us Sikhs will have a good future here in Afghanistan. There are no schools; it’s the same future Muslims have in Afghanistan,” she added.

Sikh leaders say that no more than 2000 Sikhs currently live in Kabul, Ghazni in the east and Jalalabad near the Pakistan border.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says 88% of India’s 9700 Afghan refugees are Sikhs and Hindu.

Some Afghan Sikhs who left Afghanistan in the late 1990s have decided to remain permanently in India and become naturalised citizens. Twelve Sikh and Hindu families were granted citizenship this year.

According to UNHCR, dozens of Sikh refugees apply for Indian citizenship every month, with the peak reaching 57 applications in February 2006.

As the Muslim women leave the temple grounds, Gurdyal considers whether he would leave Afghanistan for a better life elsewhere.

“Afghanistan is poorer than India. I have never been to India, I would love to go there [but] we don’t have money”.

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