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Source: MENAFN, ToloNews

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(MENAFN – Daily Outlook Afghanistan) KABUL – Afghan Hindus and Sikhs at a ceremony in Kabul on Friday said their community has also been affected by insecurity and violence and that they fully support the ongoing efforts for peace as they are tired of war same as other citizens of Afghanistan.

They said they hope to see a peaceful Afghanistan in the not-so-distant future.
The Hindus and Sikhs remembered the 13 fallen members of their community who lost their lives in a suicide attack in eastern Nangarhar province last year. The ceremony was attended by a number of Kabul residents and government officials.

On July 2018, when a number of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus wanted to visit President Ashraf Ghani in Jalalabad city in Nangarhar, a suicide bomber attacked them and killed 13 of them, including Afghan Sikh leader Avtar Singh Khalsa.
‘My father who headed the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus Council and was a teacher lost his life in that incident. Our representatives from Ghazni, our elders and prominent young people were killed in that incident, said Narender Singh Khalsa, son of Avtar Singh Khalsa.
Khalsa was the only candidate for parliamentary elections from the Hindus and Sikhs community. His son ran for parliamentary elections after his father’s death.
Royender Singh Khalsa, daughter of Khalsa, said they are not only faced with insecurity but they are suffering from injustices in society.

She said they want a peaceful life and that they support peace efforts.
‘My two sisters were killed in the past and my uncle was killed when the Kochis attacked our Dharamshala. What has remained for us in this city that we should love it and live for it? Nothing has left for us, our elders have been killed and now only widows and orphans have remained, Royender said.

Yusuf Pashtun, an advisor to President Ashraf Ghani, said at the ceremony that the Hindus and Sikhs have been living in Afghanistan for long time and that they have deep roots here.
‘There is no doubt that we accepted Islam, but we are from one tribe, we are brother and we should continue this brotherhood, said Pashtun.

An investigation by TOLOnews from last June shows that close to 99 percent of former Hindu and Sikh citizens of Afghanistan have left the country over the past three decades.
The investigation revealed that the Sikh and Hindu population number was 220,000 in the 1980s. That number dropped sharply to 15,000 when the mujahedeen were in power during the 1990s and remained at that level during the Taliban regime. It is now estimated that only 1,350 Hindus and Sikhs remain in the country.
According to the findings, the main reasons behind their departure include religious discrimination and government’s neglect of the minority group, during the Taliban era in particular.
The TOLOnews findings indicate that where Hindus and Sikhs were once very active in business within the country, they are now faced with increasing poverty.
The findings also show that Hindus and Sikhs had suffered huge setbacks after the Taliban regime collapsed in 2001. This forced a large number of them to leave the countryside and to migrate to Kabul for a living. As a result, there are no Sikh or Hindu citizens living in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Despite their problems, remaining Hindu and Sikh residents have said they are trying to continue with their lives in Afghanistan as they are optimistic about the country’s future. (Tolo news)

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Source: Vancouver Sun

Husband Shamsheer Singh Khalsa, back left, and wife Havinder Kaur Khalsa, back right. Their children, from left, Tirath, 11, Jasmeet, 8, and Zorawer, 6. Fathe, 3, is in his father’s arms. The Surrey Sikh community sponsored this Afghan-Sikh refugee family. FRANCIS GEORGIAN / PNG

On the steps of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, Tirath Singh Khalsa, 11, and his sister, Jasmeet Kaur, 8, waved small Canadian flags and smiled as dozens of members of Surrey’s Sikh community surrounded them.

The children, along with siblings Zorawer, 6, Fathe, 3, and parents Havinder Kaur Khalsa, 30, and Shamsheer Singh Khalsa, 40, had just arrived from India, part of a group of Afghan-Sikh refugees privately sponsored by the local community.

Their family had been part of the very small Punjabi Sikh and Hindu community living as a persecuted minority in northeastern Afghanistan. Shamsheer said the family lived in fear of Isis and the Taliban, and resisted threats to change their religion to Islam. Khalsa had been a shopkeeper, but said that because he wouldn’t convert to Islam, he was considered “an infidel.”

Prem Singh Vinning, past-president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, acted as a translator for the group, and said everyday life for the Punjabi community in northeastern Afghanistan is very difficult.

“The kids can’t go to school, because they would have to cut their hair and remove their turbans. The women would have to wear burkas, otherwise they are not safe at all, they are stoned. It’s very difficult and very challenging,” Vinning said.

Shamsheer said locals were warned by the Taliban not to patronize his shop: “Our business stopped.”

He said the family is very grateful to Canada for the welcome.

“I feel so happy, and say thanks to all Canadians. Canada is a safe country, and everyone wants to be safe and have (human) rights.”

The arrival of Khalsa, his wife and their four kids, and a second Sikh refugee family of six, was an emotional moment for Baljinder Singh Bhuller. Bhuller was on hand representing his late son, former Alberta MLA Manmeet Singh Bhullar.

Bhullar said his son had begun the project of bringing the Afghan-Sikh refugees to Canada before he was tragically killed in a car accident in 2015. The family’s foundation carried on with the work after his death. With the assistance of the WSO of Canada, the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation moved 65 refugee families to India, and began the process of bringing them to Canada through private sponsorship.

“For over three years we have been providing them with food, shelter and medical care through the foundation,” said Bhullar.

Shamsheer said he’s looking forward to going to school — something he was not able to do while growing up in Afghanistan.

By the end of the month the foundation hopes to have 18 families resettled in Canada.

Between 800 and 1,000 Sikh and Hindu families remain in northeastern Afghanistan.

“I would say to the Canadian government to please help them,” Shamsheer said.

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Click here to read the full article from Sikh Siyasat News

 

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The Indo-Canadian Voice

AS part of this year’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of the successful private sponsorship refugee program, the federal government on Tuesday welcomed the first arrival of Sikh and Hindu minority refugee families from Afghanistan which was possible through the generosity of Canadians coming together to help resettle these vulnerable refugees.

Defence Minister Harjit Singh along with BC MPs Sukh Dhaliwal and Randeep Sarai.

 

 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan greeted the first privately-sponsored families from among the approved Afghan minority refugee claimants after their arrival in Calgary.
He noted that Canada is a global leader in resettling the world’s most vulnerable, which is why the federal government has worked very closely with the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation and other partners to ensure safe resettlement opportunities in Canada.
Manmeet Singh Bhullar was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta who was known for his compassion and support for his community. Unfortunately, he tragically lost his life while helping a stranded motorist, but his legacy continues to positively affect those in Canada and around the world. His advocacy was instrumental in starting this process to assist the vulnerable Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan.

 

 

 

The private sponsorship of refugees program has helped resettle thousands of the world’s most vulnerable. The arrival of these refugees is an example of why this program is now being emulated by countries around the world. This program is built on the generosity of Canadians and will continue to help resettle those most in need, Sajjan noted.

He added: “Our government has taken action to ensure the safety of survivors of persecution and violence in Afghanistan. Families from among the Afghan Sikh and Hindu minority population have faced extreme risk based on their ethnicity and religious beliefs. We are proud to honour the legacy of my good friend Manmeet Singh Bhullar by welcoming members of this vulnerable population to Canada to offer them a new life and home, while ensuring they have the support they need to thrive.”
The Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation said: “Today marks an important step in fulfilling Manmeet’s vision for this project. We hope to continue welcoming other families as they complete the private sponsorship journey. Minister Sajjan’s stalwart leadership, assistance from the Government of Canada, bi-partisan support, and the sheer will of community members throughout Canada to share in this work; brings us to this point. These families can now move from not only surviving, but thriving while living the Canadian dream.”

 

Manmeet Bhullar

MEANWHILE, the World Sikh Organization of Canada said it was delighted to welcome the arrival of the first Sikh and Hindu refugee families from Afghanistan to Canada.  It said Tuesday’s arrivals were the result of the tireless work of Manmeet Singh Bhullar who championed this cause prior to his tragic passing in November 2015.

The arriving refugees have been sponsored through private applications that were spearheaded by the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation with support from the World Sikh Organization of Canada, community groups and individuals carrying on the tireless work of Bhullar. By utilizing the private sponsorship stream, individuals donate the costs of refugee sponsorship, maintaining legal responsibility to ensure settlement supports are provided to refugees.

Sikhs and Hindus have endured increasing religious persecution and today face a difficult, if not unlivable situation in many parts of Afghanistan.  The Sikh and Hindu communities that have lived in Afghanistan for hundreds of years, now number less than 1,000 individuals.  Prior to 1992, their population numbered over 200,000, however due to persecution and discrimination, most have been forced to flee to other countries.  The Afghan Sikh and Hindus remaining in Afghanistan are the most vulnerable who do not have the resources or ability to relocate.

In December 2014, Sikh and Hindu families from Afghanistan’s Helmand region reached out to the WSO for help.  In turn the WSO asked Bhullar for his assistance.  Bhulla began what seemed like the impossible task of helping these families on the other side of the world, in what was and continues to be an extremely dangerous region.  He single-handedly oversaw the safe exit of each Sikh and Hindu family from Helmand to India and helped find local organizations to assist with their basic needs.  As refugees in India have no legal status, receive no government assistance and often live in poverty, Bhullar strongly advocated for steps to help bring these families to Canada.

After Bhullar’s tragic passing in November 2015, the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation carried forward his work and with the assistance of gurdwaras, elected officials, the Sikh community and the WSO, we have finally seen the arrival of the first families to Canada.

WSO President Mukhbir Singh said: “The arrival of the first Afghan Sikh and Hindu families to Canada is a proud moment for our community and a tribute to the vision and efforts of Manmeet Singh Bhullar.  Manmeet saw a community in desperate need and despite the odds, found a way to help them.  The WSO is proud to have been a part of the team that has been working on this project with Manmeet and his family since 2015.  We thank the Government of Canada for their assistance in this process and look forward to the expeditious processing of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugee applications still in queue. While the arrival of these first families is an important milestone that we are celebrating, we also know that there are approximately 1,000 Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan today in very desperate straits and who are facing severe religious persecution and continue to plead for assistance. We must ensure that urgent steps are taken to help them as well.”

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Tolo

The Afghan Hindus and Sikhs say they will not celebrate this year’s Diwali festival due to deadly incidents took place in the country recent months.

The festival was not held last year either due to a deadly incident in Kabul.

Hindus and Sikhs living in Kabul said that the death of 14 Hindus and Sikhs in Nangarhar bombing July, assassination of former Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq and Helmand parliamentary elections candidate Abdul Jabar Qahraman are some of the violent incidents that have left them with no option rather than canceling the celebration of the festival.

Diwali is a Hindu festival with lights, held in the period October to November.

“How can we celebrate our happiness while everyday soldiers, ordinary people and elders are killed?” asked Narinder Singh Khalsa, Hindus and Sikhs representative.

The Hindus and Sikhs said their safety has been fragile in the recent years as according to them many Afghan Hindus and Sikhs have left the country over the past years.

“We don’t want to hold Diwali festival this year due to Jalalabad incident and the loss of important figures such as Gen. Raziq and Jabar Qahraman,” said Sorpal SinghKhalsa, deputy head of a committee of Hindus and Sikhs.

Diwali is one of the most valued festivals for Hindus and Sikhs in the world and they celebrate it by music, fireworks and lighting candles.

“In previous years, we were doing fireworks and based on the principles of the festival, our sisters were coming and we were giving them their expenses as gift and we were very happy,” said Cartar Singh, a resident of Kabul, who explained their excitement in Diwali celebrations of previous years.

“This festival was celebrated widely in Afghanistan in previous years, but now our population has decreased here. In the past, we were 120,000 families in Afghanistan,”said Ragbir Singh, member of Hindus and Sikhs committee of Dharamsala in Kabul.

Hindus and Sikhs have lived in Afghanistan for generations; however, various conflicts have forced many of them to leave the country and settle elsewhere.

 

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Sikh 24

OTTAWA, Canada—UNITED SIKHS this week announced a call to action in the House of Commons alongside several members of Parliament to address the increasingly desperate plight of religious minorities in Afghanistan. After gaining the support of several policy stakeholders, including MPs Garnett Genuis, Elizabeth May, Cheryl Hardcastle, Harold Albrecht, Lisa Raitt, Arnold Viersen and Bob Saroya, following a series of targeted terrorist attacks against Sikhs over the summer, the non-profit human rights organization is now calling upon Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urgently process asylum for minorities facing religious persecution.
“I was very pleased to join with so many members of various opposition parties, including the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, to table a petition in the House of Commons in support of persecuted minority communities in Afghanistan,” said MP Genuis, who led the news conference on Wednesday. “The cross-party engagement on this will hopefully help to move the ball forward and bring about government action – in terms of advocacy, and in terms of facilitating the private sponsorship of refugees by the community here in Canada.”

The news conference comes within weeks of a written human rights statement the organization submitted to the United Nations during a Human Rights Council Session held in Geneva, Switzerland last month. The three main areas of concern for religious minorities in Afghanistan, as outlined by UNITED SIKHS, are personal safety/security, religious freedom, and the right to life.

As recent as last month, a marked uptick of attacks against Hindus and Sikhs across Afghanistan have become increasingly brutal. On Sept. 1, Satnam Singh and his son, who are both identifiable Sikhs, were shot and killed in their own shop in the Herat Province. This is believed to be the second marked attack on the Sikh minority after the Taliban orchestrated a suicide bombing on July 1, in which 13 Hindu and Sikh dignitaries were targeted and killed while on their way to a meeting with government officials in Jallalabad.

“The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating for religious minorities,” said Jagdeep Singh, UNITED SIKHS Director of Human Rights Policy, during the news conference. “Sikhs are forced into segregation and Muslim conversion, and Gurdwaras (Sikh schools of spiritual learning) are regularly attacked by the Taliban and other extremist groups. In 1992, historic records indicate 60,000 lived in Afghanistan (down from 200,000 at one time). Today, there are as few as 1,200 in the country.”

In conjunction with the news conference, a petition of thousands of Canadian residents was formally submitted in the House of Commons, led by MP Garnett Genius, urging the Prime Minister to expedite asylum and grant the local Sikh and Hindu community with requested sponsorship.

“This petition calls for the government to do more to advocate with our Afghan counterpart for the rights of these minorities, and it also asks the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to use the powers granted him to create a special program to help persecuted minorities in Afghanistan,” Genius stated to the Speaker while submitting the petition during regular proceedings on the House of Commons floor. “The community here in Canada is ready to sponsor these communities. It’s been three years, it’s time for action.”

“At one time, Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and today, less than 5,000 remain,” said MP Harold Albrecht in support of the petition presented. “We’re calling on the Minister, pointing out to the Minister, that he already has the power, by legislation, to allow vulnerable minorities to come to Canada as privately sponsored refugees directly from the country where they face persecution, and further urging the Minister to raise the persecution faced by this community with the Afghan counterpart and to strongly advocate for more to be done to protect them.”

Building upon this effort, UNITED SIKHS will formally request a meeting with the Prime Minister and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. In addition, the organization will continue to raise the issue with members of Congress in the United States and Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

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