QUETTA, Pakistan: After losing one of his two sons to the worst attack against minority Shiites in Pakistan’s history, Ali was determined for the other to find a new life abroad.
“Go,” he told Iqbal Hussain, who left his job and family behind after losing his brother Muhammad Hassan to join thousands of others on treacherous waters in search of hope.
In the Shiite-dominated Mari Abad quarter of Quetta, the capital of restive Baluchistan, each family has tales of death and exile.
Sectarian violence — in particular by Sunni hardliners against Shiites, who make up roughly 20 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million people — has claimed thousands of lives in the country over the past decade.
In the latest bloodshed, 44 Shiites were massacred in the southern city Karachi on Wednesday, in the first attack claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group in the country.
The worst atrocities, however, have struck the southwestern province of Baluchistan, home to some 200,000 Shiites, according to local organisations.
The constant fear of violence is pushing young people towards illegal migration.
The worst such attack so far, on January 10, 2013, saw a suicide bomber blow himself up in a small snooker hall.
About ten minutes later, when rescue workers had rushed to the scene, a truck packed with explosives that had been parked near the hall was detonated.
The overall toll was close to 100 dead. Among them was Hassan, who had gone to help.
His brother Hussain survived, but with 38 shrapnel wounds which pierced his body.
“After six months, his mother was insisting, ‘I have lost my son, I don’t want to lose a second,'” said Ali, standing in the cemetery Hassan was buried in, where a corridor of photographs of martyrs fix their gazes on passersby.
Ali, who had saved $20,000, sent Hussain and his mother south to Karachi, then legally onward to Indonesia.
There, they placed their lives in the hands of people smugglers, and set off on a boat for Australia — the promised land — just before the conservative government there changed the law, and began sending back all new illegal migrants.
“The boat was very dangerous, there were 200 people, among them around 20 people from Quetta. It was very tough, the water was rough, we called for help” and were finally picked up by a fishing boat, Hussain said.
After the journey to a transit camp, the pair made it to Melbourne and today Hussain is learning English.
“There simply isn’t any hope in Pakistan for young Shiites,” he said. “Here in Australia we have a new life.”