No Where to Go: Pakistani Christians Refused Asylum

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A Pakistani Christian pastor forced to flee to Thailand was denied asylum, leaving him with nowhere to turn.

After four years of struggling with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to prove his case was genuine, Baber Masih said of his plight and that of his wife and three children, “If we return to our country and get arrested due to blasphemy, we are afraid that everything that happens to people who get arrested under blasphemy laws would happen to us. The Muslim extremists of Pakistan could imprison us, kill or even burn us alive.”

Over the last number of months, the UNHRC turned away Pakistani Christians seeking asylum in Thailand. In the last two months alone, the files of more than 20 Christian families were closed, said Baber.

Once their files are closed, the UNHCR office informs the Thai Immigration about their status. Many are then arrested and put behind the bars in deplorable conditions, a fate of which Baber and his family are living in fear.

In addition, Baber reports the seeming arbitrariness of the judgments relating that another Christian was given refugee status whereas Baber’s plea was not considered to be true.

The UNHCR-Thailand uses the British Home Office guidelines to assess Pakistani Christian asylum seekers’ applications in Thailand. An article published by the Church Times notes, “The guidance currently reflects a tribunal ruling that Christians in Pakistan suffer discrimination, but this is not sufficient to amount to a real risk of persecution."  It also states the Pakistani government is "willing and able to provide protection against such attacks, and internal relocation is a viable option."

However, this assessment is contradicted by the British Foreign Office's own guidelines, which state there is "not much protection of religious minorities from the government."

Lord Alton of Liverpool presented his report expressing his deep concern over the treatment the UNHCR gives to Pakistani Christians. In his report, he stated, “The UK’s Home Office guidance on Pakistani Christians and Christian converts is being used to de-prioritize and de-legitimize Christian asylum-seekers’ applications — even if returning these individuals to Pakistan will leave them at a significant and real risk of attack, torture, or being killed."

Baber further charges that the UNHRC has no parameters to investigate and gauge the depth of the seriousness of threats to Christian individuals and families in Pakistan.  Relating his story, Baber said, “On September 16, 2012, about 8 p.m., Muslim clerics/extremists attacked our home. They entered forcefully and started beating us with rods and clubs and abused us, calling us kafir (infidels) and churry (sweepers) and many other bad words. 

“It seemed they wanted to burn us alive as they were shouting that they were going to do so.  We thank God that many people gathered quickly and rushed to our home because our women and children had locked themselves in a room and were crying and weeping very loudly as they heard us being beaten. Knowing the situation we decided to leave our homeland.

“We applied for asylum with UNHCR and received registrations in December of 2012. We were interviewed in the following year, and the year after our application was refused. We submitted an appeal to the UNHCR through the asylum access in 2014, but now after two years of struggle, the UNHCR has refused our case, closing our file permanently.”

The size of the minority population in Pakistan has decreased, from 25 percent in 1947 to a mere 3% today. The discriminatory laws against ethnic minorities have made their lives almost impossible. For example, since 1974, when Ahmadi Muslims were declared a “minority” in Pakistan, they have been relentlessly persecuted.

Their exodus from Pakistan continues unabated. Similarly, Hindus, Christians and Sikhas never miss an opportunity to flee from Pakistan.

Yet, the world seems to have closed its doors to Pakistani Christians, as Baber Masih and others like him have discovered. Even in America, the latest statistics show that of the 10,801 Syrian refugees accepted in fiscal 2016, only 56 are Christians, a mere 0.5 percent.

While the Islamic State commits genocide against Christians and other minorities, other countries, like Pakistan, wage an unremitting war of attrition against their minority populations. It is imperative that the world wakes up to this slow genocide from within.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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