Pakistan Christians have fled to Thailand to escape Pakistan religious persecution, violence, attacks, threats, and spurious charges of “blasphemy” (which often results in extra-judicial attacks).
Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) has been regularly communicating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Thailand Office, UNHCR HQ, Thailand government, the U.S. Embassy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) since early 2015 on a regular basis on this issue. We have provided them with facts, figures, statistics, laws, regulations, case histories, and extensive details to justify their need for action. But too often, the needs of Pakistan Christian refugees are being ignored, and they are left in dire and desperate condition, many arrested and left in Thailand Immigration Detention Centres (IDC), while the UNHCR puts them on a waiting list to be interviewed. They desperately need help, funds, medical care, food, and support. This remains a major human rights crisis. Groups such as the Pakistan British Christian Association (PBCA) have on the ground support in Thailand to help such Pakistan Christians, and they need your help but the need is more than what NGOs alone can perform. We need real action by the UNHCR.
Another Pakistan Christian refugee died while waiting for action, and while languishing in the IDC jail. R.E.A.L. has received the following report on the night of December 30, 2015, from our contact in Thailand. “I want to share the sad demise of Sanina, wife of Faisal Masih; mother of two years old son, who was kept in IDC, Bangkok, Thailand. She was arrested by Thai police on December 20, 2015. No one knows the reason of her death. Her husband was told over phone by UNHCR, Bangkok, to control his emotions and get ready to hear a sad news. Earlier Sanina gave birth to a premature girl, who could not survive. Just consider, the condition of the father, who has just a two years old son, and no one around to support him at this hour of need.”
Another contact in Thailand states: “She was sick in Immigration Detention Center (IDC) on 24 December 2015. UNHCR had delayed two times her interview already. Nobody knew about her sickness except UNHCR AND IDC.”
Our contact in Thailand states: “As you remember that Immigration police raids and arrest men, women, children, young and old. They have no mercy for anyone and the conditions in Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) cannot be explained. The worse part of IDC is that there’s no proper standard of living. People live a miserable life there; they don’t get any proper food or medical help for critically sick people, nor enough space is there even to sleep. Men and women are kept separately and children have no access to their parents, no matter how old they are. They are kept in separate cells.” “There are many heart breaking stories where the family members had become critically sick and the other family members couldn’t do much to save their family members.” “UNHCR is not supporting for medical assistance. I don’t have enough words to express the miseries of Pakistani Christians facing persecution on the hands of human rights protectors UNHCR office , Thailand. There is no one to raise voice against such brutality and inhuman behavior against Pakistani Christians in Bangkok, Thailand.”
Dr. Nazir Bhatti of the Pakistan Christian Congress has stated: “The shocking news of death of Sanina Faisal Masih in Immigration Detention Center IDC Bangkok have saddened Pakistani Christians; It is time to express unity to prevent such sad incident and to resolve issues of Pakistani Christian Asylum seekers: PCC is with leaders of our community in Bangkok to respond accordingly: We are waiting for their decision in this horrifying death of Christian refugee in IDC.”
R.E.A.L. extends its sympathies to the family of Sanina Faisal Masih and shares the outrage of Pakistan Christian refugees and also those with a conscience on human rights on this matter.
R.E.A.L. stands with the Pakistan Christian refugees and their plight, and we continue to aggressively seek changes with the UNHCR, the Thailand government, and the U.S. government for their support. Most of what R.E.A.L. has written on this is private communications on individual refugee cases. But R.E.A.L. has seen a series of common trends, which need to change.
1. Pakistan Christian refugees to Thailand are being held to a different standard than other refugees around the world. There is too often an attempt to find a reason to deny the refugee status instead of finding a way to help such refugees. This is contrary to the rules of the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook.
2.Pakistan Christian refugees in Thailand face persecution by immigration detention authorities and those involved in sweeping arrests may have to wait protracted periods for a UNHCR interview. The overall UNHCR process is slow and denies all such refugees a reasonable chance at resettlement due to the extensive delays in processing.
3.Pakistan Christian refugees who do not speak English, and who have been targets of anti-human rights “Islamic blasphemy” charges in Pakistan are being interviewed by Pakistan Muslim UNHCR representatives who speak Urdu. Not surprisingly, such Pakistan Christian refugees are naturally intimidated and fearful to address that aspect of the details of threats against them.
4.R.E.A.L. has noticed cases where actual violence, murder, and injuries somehow translate into decisions where there is “not a reasonable threat of violence” to the Pakistan Christian refugee, which in contrary to logic and contrary to the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook. In the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, Chapter 6, Resettlement Submission Categories, Section 6.3.2, page 251, the UNHCR uses the definition of violence from the World Health Organization: “Violence is the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”
5.R.E.A.L. has regularly noticed cases where excessive evidentiary requirements are being asked by UNHCR Thailand of Pakistan Christian refugees, which does not confirm to UNHCR regulations. UNHCR Resettlement Handbook Paragraph 196 states: “Often, however, an applicant may not be able to support his statements by documentary or other proof, and cases in which an applicant can provide evidence of all his statements will be the exception rather than the rule. In most cases a person fleeing from persecution will have arrived with the barest necessities and very frequently even without personal documents. Thus, while the burden of proof in principle rests on the applicant, the duty to ascertain and evaluate all the relevant facts is shared between the applicant and the examiner. Indeed, in some cases, it may be for the examiner to use all the means at his disposal to produce the necessary evidence in support of the application. Even such independent research may not, however, always be successful and there may also be statements that are not susceptible of proof. In such cases, if the applicant’s account appears credible, he should, unless there are good reasons to the contrary, be given the benefit of the doubt.” UNHCR Resettlement Handbook Paragraph 197 states “The requirement of evidence should thus not be too strictly applied in view of the difficulty of proof inherent in the special situation in which an applicant for refugee status finds himself.”
6.R.E.A.L. has noticed many cases of Pakistan Christian refugees where the UNHCR Thailand has not exercised giving the “benefit of the doubt” on issues that one would typically give to fleeing refugees. In the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook Section B(2) “Benefit of the Doubt of this Handbook,” Paragraph 203 states: “After the applicant has made a genuine effort to substantiate his story there may still be a lack of evidence for some of his statements. As explained above (see Paragraph 196), it is hardly possible for a refugee to ‘prove’ every part of his case and, indeed, if this were a requirement the majority of refugees would not be recognized. It is therefore frequently necessary to give the applicant the benefit of the doubt.”
7.R.E.A.L. has noticed numerous cases of Pakistan Christian refugees where the UNHCR Thailand is not considering the conditions of the country of the refugee applicant, contrary to the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook rules. The UNHCR Resettlement Handbook Paragraph 42 specifically states that: “The competent authorities that are called upon to determine refugee status are not required to pass judgement on conditions in the applicant’s country of origin. The applicant’s statements cannot, however, be considered in the abstract, and must be viewed in the context of the relevant background situation. A knowledge of conditions in the applicant’s country of origin –while not a primary objective – is an important element in assessing the applicant’s credibility. In general, the applicant’s fear should be considered well-founded if he can establish, to a reasonable degree, that his continued stay in his country of origin has become intolerable to him for the reasons stated in the definition, or would for the same reasons be intolerable if he returned there.” In addition, the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook Paragraph 43 also specifically states: “These considerations need not necessarily be based on the applicant’s own personal experience. What, for example, happened to his friends and relatives and other members of the same racial or social group may well show that his fear that sooner or later he also will become a victim of persecution is well-founded. The laws of the country of origin, and particularly the manner in which they are applied, will be relevant.”
8.R.E.A.L. has direct knowledge that the UNHCR Thailand office is aware of these conditions, as R.E.A.L. has directly provided such background information to the UNHCR Thailand office. R.E.A.L. provided such information to the UNHCR Thailand office on April 13, 2015, by email, including a spreadsheet of the attacks and persecution on Pakistan Christians to that time. On April 13, 2015, R.E.A.L. also provided information from other international organizations, including a study by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). On October 30, 2015, R.E.A.L. provided the UNHCR Thailand office another updated study on the conditions of Pakistan Christians and religious minorities by the USCIRF from July 2015. On November 3, 2015, R.E.A.L. provided the UNHCR Thailand office another study dated October 14, 2015, from the U.S. Department of State on the conditions of Pakistan Christian minorities. On December 22, 2015, R.E.A.L. provided the UNHCR Thailand office the November 2015 issue of International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which the UNHCR Thailand office follows on Twitter, where the ICJ issued a 60-page report entitled “On Trial: the Implementation of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws.” The November 2015 ICJ report states (page 7), “Individuals accused of blasphemy continue to be vulnerable even after formally coming within the ambit of the criminal justice system. In many cases, blasphemy accused awaiting trial or serving sentences following convictions have been assaulted while held in custody and authorities have failed to protect them. Some have even been killed. In a few cases, police officials themselves have reportedly been the perpetrators.”
9.Regarding the conditions within Pakistan for Pakistan Christians and the “blasphemy” law, R.E.A.L. provided the UNHCR Thailand office on December 22, 2015, excerpts from the November 2015 ICJ report, which refers to United Nations’ studies on this topic. It is clear that United Nations did see such a threat to Pakistan Christians with the refugees country of origin, as early as 2012. The November 2015 ICJ report states that: “The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, for example, following a mission to Pakistan in 2012, found that ‘These laws serve the vested interests of extremist religious groups and are not only contrary to the Constitution of Pakistan, but also to international human rights norms, in particular those relating to non- discrimination and freedom of expression and opinion.’ (Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, 2012, UN Doc.A/HRC/23/43/Add.2, para 57, p. 13).” On page 13 of this referenced United Nations report, it also states: “the blasphemy laws are abused to target Christians.” As the United Nations has reported in its “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, 2012, UN Doc.A/HRC/23/43/Add.2,” informality of such “blasphemy” charges and actual details about such charges, are typically contrary to widely practiced criminal law procedures in other parts of the world. As the United Nations states in its own report on this subject: “Reports of conflicts being resolved by informal justice systems, often at the grass-root or community level are distressing. Such informal dispute settlement systems are deeply rooted in conservative interpretations of tradition and/or religion and lead to conflict resolution and punishments which are in contradiction with laws in Pakistan, fundamental rights recognized in the Constitution, and international human rights standards.” (paragraph 82, page 16). Furthermore, the United Nations also reports that “Laws that are ambiguous can be applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner and impede the proper administration of justice.” (paragraph 60, page 13), and indicates this human rights crisis is further exacerbated by “the poor quality of investigations carried out by police services.” (paragraph 74, page 15). In this same report, the United Nations also states that “117. Blasphemy laws, Hudood Ordinances, and anti-Ahmadi laws, as well as any other discriminatory legal provision, should be repealed and replaced with provisions in conformity with Pakistan’s Constitution and the international human rights law instruments to which Pakistan is a party.”
R.E.A.L. believes to effectively honor the loss of such Pakistan Christian refugee victims as Sanina Faisal Masih, we must also concretely and specifically challenge the institutional and systemic failure to effectively support Pakistan Christian refugees who have fled to Thailand. We urge the UNHCR Thailand office to follow the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook guidelines, spirit, and intent, and we urge the High Commissioner to see that this is happening. We urge the government of Thailand, which itself has been a target of extremist violence, to show mercy to Pakistan Christian refugees fleeing from such extremists. We urge the United States government to use it influence with the UNHCR and the Thailand government to show mercy, respect, and care for the tragic conditions of these Pakistan Christian refugees. We urge the international Christian community to find resources and priorities to significantly assist these Pakistan Christian refugees, who are currently being helped by a handful of NGOs and individuals.
R.E.A.L. is continuing our communications with the UNHCR Thailand, other UNHCR offices, and U.S. government offices on individual cases, as well as the larger human right catastrophe of how Pakistan Christians are being neglected. We welcome your support on that human rights campaign.