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?