Pakistani death squads spur desperate voyage to Australia

Asylum seekers at banana stall in Indonesia

It was 3 a.m. when Abid Warasi and his friend clambered into an Indonesian fishing boat, joining 300 other migrants packed into the hold. Only a few days away by sea, Australia seemed tantalizingly close.

Six hours into the voyage, the craft overturned. The two teenagers clung to the upturned hull. One by one, survivors lost purchase and drifted away, their dreams swallowed by the warm waters of the Java Sea.

"When the boat capsized, the dead bodies came floating above the water," Warasi said, recounting his ordeal in the Indonesian hill town of Puncak, just south of Jakarta. "Our hearts were so sad for them and we were waiting for our own time when we would die."

The heroism that would ensure the pair survived 48 hours in the water is not merely testament to the bond of friendship that has united Warasi and Muhammad Muntaziri since their childhoods in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Their determination is also a reflection of the ferocity of the persecution unleashed upon their ethnic Hazara community, who are almost all members of Pakistan's Shi'ite minority.

In the past year, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist group, has turned Quetta into a hunting ground. Gunmen shoot Hazaras every few days while leaflets shoved under doorways warn they are infidels deserving of death.

Thousands choose to face the ocean's terrors rather than risk an encounter with the death squads stalking their city's streets.

"Mothers are selling their jewelry so that their sons can leave Quetta for abroad," said Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, a Quetta-based political party. "We are under siege."

(Special Report: Pakistan's threat within: the Sunni-Shia divide. To read click here)

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The 10,000-km (6,000 miles) route from Quetta to established Hazara communities in the more genteel environs of Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney is just one strand in an ever-shifting web of global migration.

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