In recent years 30, 000 Pakistani Christians are said to have applied for asylum or refugee status in Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka – according to the country’s religious and political leaders. The notion of asylum was recently brought to my attention when I came across heinous and downright ignorant comments about my own family regarding our October 3 Dailymail article. In accordance with the uneducated and illogical mindset, the Hussain family had apparently converted to Christianity for the sake of a British passport; solely for the purpose of UK asylum. Personally, I don’t see how this corresponds to family of second generation Pakistani immigrants born in England. In actual fact there are moments where I think I’d prefer to move to Pakistan, where certain areas and communities live in respectful tolerance of each other- in the recognition that despite Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian beliefs, all are fundamentally Pakistani and diversity of religion cannot alter this fact. My Christian experience in the UK’s ‘Bradistan’ can’t boast of such tolerance. Having spent a year in the Muslim nation of Malaysia where I never felt so safe, so free, I can honestly proclaim that Pakistan’s Christians would be better off there.
I abhor the lack of compassion towards persecuted minorities, or rather the selective welcome by our government. Figures such as Malala Yousafzai are more likely to be granted UK asylum/citizenship than Asia Bibi’s children for example – equally deserving of the long-standing British history of offering sanctuary to those fleeing brutal persecution. The mind boggles at the hypocrisy.
The world needs to wake up. 30,000 Pakistani Christians don’t wake up one morning and decide their homeland is no longer for them. 30, 000 don’t opt for a life of displacement and separation from their loved ones, nor willingly arrive on foreign shores – unsure of their mode of survival. Fate forces their hand. Anti-Christian persecution forces terrified coerces petrified believers into abandoning their homes and everything they’ve ever known and been accustomed to, in order to guarantee the safety of their families.
Christianity and poverty are commonly interlinked in Pakistan and the denial of economic prospects are also an incentive to claim asylum elsewhere. However, the plight of such a persecuted people by no means stops there. In Karachi, Pastor Rafaqat Sadiq of the United Presbyterian Church of Pakistan stated that the majority of Christians in the Dastagir, Essa Nagri, Azam Basti and Mahmoodabad districts have claimed asylum in Thailand. Yet, since work permits are denied to many of them they are in a state of limbo, in between a rock and hard place:
‘’Owing to poverty and lack of resources, some young girls are forced into prostitution to make a living. But they’re still clinging to the hope they’ll be granted refugee status by the UN High Commission for Refugees’’.
Kashif Javed, diocesan coordinator for the National Commission for Justice & Peace noted that the Church doesn’t support what he termed a ‘hasty and risky’ migration of Christians.
‘We extend every possible legal and financial assistance to victims of persecution instead of sending them abroad’.
Javed’s views stem from the fact that official red tape await many Christian asylum seekers resulting in hundreds of applicants returning to Pakistan or apprehended upon their arrival, detained and deported. To give an insight into the process, upon reaching Thailand for example, Christians file an asylum application with the UN High Commission for Refugees. However, several years can easily pass by before an interview with the Commission is granted in order to ascertain or reject asylum.
One case study is the plight of Karachi-born Nadeem John, who fled to Thailand in March 2014 with his wife and 2 children; leaving behind his business where he earned a decent livelihood. I was disheartened to learn that his interview with the UNHCR was scheduled for 2019. With no work permit and an interim period of 5 full years.
‘’For almost a year I remained jobless and spent all the money I brought from Pakistan by selling my shop and other belongings. Eventually we decided to return to Karachi and re-establish my business’.
It’s that ‘No Place to Call Home’ rhetoric I’ve ricocheted back and forth numerous times on this blog platform all over again. Which begs the question, where and when will it be safe enough to be Christian across the Muslim world?
India’s 15m Christian ‘Untouchables’ forced to deny faith
According to India’s caste system, the Dalit class scrape at the bottom. The Indian government have made the plight of the Dalits no better by forcing those who are Christian to convert back to Hinduism in order to receive governmental benefits. Often referred to as the ‘untouchables’, the Dalits are severely oppressed and live in extreme poverty. Those who profess to be Christian are not only a target for discrimination and persecution but face government oppression, as state officials declare that only Hindu Dalits are entitled to government program benefits, proving a life and death situation for the estimated 15 million Christian Dalits; as such financial relief enables many recipients poverty alleviation.
This deeply religiously-politicised action leaves millions of Christian Dalits to choose between following their faith or denouncing it, in a country where Christians have been systematically persecuted for 65 years. The entrenching of the Schedule Caste Order 1950 which denies routine aid to Dalit Christians is effectively resulting in the denial of the Christian faith. International Christian Concern (ICC) cites the example of a Dalit Christian who they name ‘Mr Batnam’, in which he implores the pastor of his church to write a letter to the government, stating he and his family are not members of any church.
‘I need this letter in order to show the government that we are low caste Hindus so that my son can do higher studies under the Schedule Caste Reservation Quota. I do not want my children to struggle like we do, as unskilled labourers barely meeting the ends. I want my children to study and to escape the struggles that we’re going through because we’re uneducated. Myself and my family could be denied the Scheduled Caste benefits because I go to church and believe in Jesus. We found ourselves in a worse position being Christians. As Hindus we had no status but at least we were given Scheduled Caste benefits.’
Batnam’s situation is not unique. This correlation between government benefits to Indian Dalits and religious identity is a very convenient method of de-incentivising primarily Hindu Dalits from converting to Christianity. It also serves as an enticement used by Hindu radicals to convert Christian Dalits, using the lure of Scheduled Caste benefits. Christian rights activist Franklin Ceaser states that governmental manipulation is unconstitutional.
‘The system is against the fundamental rights provided to all Indian citizens in the constitution. The Presidential Order of 1950 has destroyed fundamental and constitutional rights of Dalits from Christian and Muslim backgrounds, this benefit must be delinked from religion.’
This new policy should be viewed as nothing less than an aggressive government campaign in spreading Hinduism and given the dominance of Hindu nationals currently in power and led by Modi, it is highly unlikely the situation will change any time soon.