More than 3,000 members of the Hazara minority have been killed in targeted killings and terror attacks in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province since 2001, leaders of the community told the country's Senate Thursday.
The Senate's Committee for Human Rights held a special session to hear the grievances of the Hazara community, which has experienced a surge in attacks in recent years.
"We have put our case in front of the committee with a hope that the government will take action against the unlawful killings of Hazaras," Jalila Haider, a Hazara lawyer and human rights activist, told VOA. "Most of the Hazara community members were killed and targeted in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. We have continued to face the brutality for over two decades now because we belong to a certain ethnic and minority group."
Senator Muhammad Ali Khan Saif, a member of the human rights committee, told VOA that the Shiite community "has remained vulnerable for decades in Balochistan."
"It is our responsibility to listen to their grievances. Based on their statements, we will compile our recommendations and send it to relevant authorities for further action," he said.
The human rights committee will meet again in June to assess the situation.
Hazaras are largely based in and around Quetta, Balochistan's capital. In the 19th century, the ancestors of Quetta's Hazaras sought refuge in the area to escape persecution and poverty in central Afghanistan.
Members of the Hazara community said they hoped the meeting with Pakistani lawmakers would help ease their plight.
"We are forced to live in a state of constant fear. We have restrictions on our movement due to security concerns. We hope the government will listen to our concerns," Abdul Khaliq Hazara, an ethnic Hazara politician, told VOA.
"During the month of April this year, there were at least four separate incidents of killings against us in Balochistan. These people come out of nowhere and kill us for no reason. And there's nothing the government or the security forces have done to stop this atrocity," he added.
The provincial government rejects allegations that it is not protecting the community. The government said it has taken adequate measures to prevent attacks.
"The government is committed to taking action against terrorism indiscriminately. Hazaras are our brothers, and it is our priority to ensure those who are involved in killings against the group will be arrested," Mir Sarfaraz Bugti, Balochistan's home minister, told VOA.
In early May, a large number of Hazaras went on a hunger strike in Quetta that lasted more than five days to pressure the government to take measures against racial profiling and targeted killings.
The protest was called off after Pakistan's army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, met with community leaders to assure them that their concerns would be addressed.
"Those targeting the Hazara community will suffer twice as much, and the state and Pakistan army will provide security to the community," Bajwa assured them.
Pakistan's military later issued a statement saying security forces in Balochistan had killed a senior pro-Islamic State militant commander who was wanted for the killing of more than 100 Hazaras and policemen in the province.
Fleeing the country
Because of insecurity and continued attacks against the minority group, thousands of Hazaras have left Pakistan in recent years.
"Due to the continuous targeted killings against the community, around 90,000 families have relocated to Indonesia, Turkey and other countries," Haider said. "In the name of security, we're being forced to live in concentration camp-like conditions under the vigilance of security forces. This is not a life we want. We want to enjoy freedom."