Afghanistan: Orphaned and terrified – persecuted Hazara minority whose hard lives have just got harder under the Taliban

The five children are all now orphans – and still very much in shock when we meet them.

Their two-roomed home is silent apart from their weeping which is interspersed with stunned silences.

Propped up in front of them is a photograph of their mother who was killed in a car bomb a few days before we meet the youngsters.

They are the latest victims of what many believe is a concerted and systemic persecution of the Hazara ethnic group in Afghanistan.

The bomb was planted in the centre of the Hazara community in Herat City, a few yards away from the Hazara community office.

Half of those who used to live in this area – that’s thousands of them – have already upped and fled since the Taliban came to power.

Many streamed across the border to nearby Iran intending to try to make their way to Europe or any other safe haven.

Although the Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K) said they’d planted the latest bomb in Herat City, the Hazaras around the area believe it could just as easily have been left by the Taliban.

“They don’t like us either,” one Hazara woman told us.

The orphaned children had been at home waiting for their mother to come home.

Their father died of illness three years ago so they relied solely on their mother to earn enough to feed all six of the remaining family.

Nearly six months ago, their already hard lives got a whole lot harder when the Taliban came to power.

Their mother headed out to her job despite the danger of angering the new rulers who frown on women working.

She had no choice.

Her eldest child is a girl who’s just 18 and she’s been looking after her younger siblings since she was 15.

Now with her mother killed, this young woman is going to have to find a way to earn cash in a country which doesn’t automatically recognise her right to either work or study.

Her 16-year-old sister sobs angrily: “There’s a lack of everything in Afghanistan. My mother was so kind and she cared for us but there wasn’t even an ambulance to take her to hospital. I cannot believe she’s gone.”

The youngest – a girl of seven – looks on, wiping her eyes with her headscarf. Her sisters tell us she hasn’t slept since the bombing.

“She’s awake until morning, asking us where our mother is,” the eldest says, “she’s very young and scared”.

If truth be told, they all are – and every Hazara we spoke to in this community in Herat said the same.

Hazaras who worked with foreigners believe Taliban wants revenge

We meet a group of about 15 – both men and women – again all Hazaras, who are on the run.

They’re all in hiding from Taliban fighters they’re convinced are bent on revenge.

Their crime is working for the foreigners who rapidly pulled out last August.

All of them have either been trained or worked with the foreigners.

Many are former police officers; some served in the Afghan army and at least one ran a needlework class teaching handicraft skills to women and advising them of their rights.

Many have letters of commendation from their former foreign friends.

We see a range of flags of the coalition partners across the masthead of the many certificates applauding their success at completing the various courses run by the foreigners. And there are photographs of them alongside their former friends.

But now they’re all terrified because of their association with the international groups that stayed here for more than two decades.

One women says she hides her ID cards and portfolio of achievements linking her to her past, buried in the ground.

“I only got it out to show you,” she says. A former police officer says of the foreign troops: “They left us behind and now we’re not safe so I ask the international community to please help us – either with our security here – or get us out of here.”

Another, a young woman has graphic pictures of an army vehicle which has been the target of a shooting.

The photographs show bloodstained seats in the front of the vehicle.

“This is where my mother was shot,” the young woman says.

Her mother was a soldier.

She somehow survived but is paralysed and now the rest of her family is worried they’re next.

Taliban amnesty promise ‘was a lie’

The promises by the Taliban of an amnesty for those who worked with the foreigners has come to nothing.

“They lie. There is no amnesty. The Taliban lie,” several of them say.

The daughter of the female soldier shot in the army vehicle speaks for them all when she says: “We are nervous about our security and our families,” she says, “We don’t want to go to another country…we want to live in a safe situation in our country but this is not possible for us.”

Among the group is the son of Alia Azizi, the female governor of Herat’s women’s prison.

She was given a Taliban amnesty letter, days after the Taliban took power at the end of August.

But she never returned home after going to work at the beginning of October.

Her family haven’t seen her since and human rights groups like Amnesty International have been calling for a proper investigation into her disappearance.

Her family are convinced she’s been taken by the Taliban despite their denials.

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