London: June 30, 2016. (PCP) In January 2016 the BBC released a 1 hour documentary on the torrid situation faced by Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand. They highlighted how thousands of Pakistani Christians have fled to flee persecution including the rape and forced conversion of Christian women, Blasphemy allegations and Numerous threats to burn and kills individuals and communities. Thailand has not signed UN conventions for asylum meaning that even those registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand are treated as criminals if not pariah's. No access to any healthcare or children's education, prohibition of employment and constant arrest and detainment have made the lives of refugees and asylum seekers, one that is full of anxiety, fear and depression.
In response to the documentary, Royal Thai Authorities quite deplorably, have made it virtually impossible for relatives living abroad to gain access to their notorious Immigration Detention Centres. Moreover, despite a short period of lenience where no arrests have taken place following the airing of the feature, the Thai police and immigration authorities have resumed their draconian measures, safe in the knowledge that the contents of the documentary has already been forgotten by so many.
Fortunately, the plight of thousands of asylum seekers stranded in Thailand is not being overlooked by everyone. In a conversation with Peter Trotter a Senior Protection officer at Bangkok's UNHCR, he revealed to the BPCA that today 300,000 euros have been received from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), to help with the refugee status determination (RSD) process for asylum-seekers in Thailand.
The funds will be used to help clear the backlog of asylum applications resulting from a three-fold increase in the number of asylum-seekers in Bangkok since 2013. In the case of many Pakistani Christians asylum seekers and refugees this has culminated in delays of between 4-10 years for resettlement. Despite being the largest body of asylum seekers in Thailand the UNHCR and many western nations still refuse to heighten the risk categorization of Pak-Christians from severely discriminated to persecuted. The recent funding however, will now allow of the employment of additional staff and resources to expedite applications submitted before 31st December 2015.
"We are very grateful for the contribution from ECHO, particularly given the rising number of conflicts and funding shortfalls globally," said Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, UNHCR's Representative in Thailand. "The additional funds will help us reduce the waiting time for asylum-seekers to receive a decision on their refugee status so that they can make informed decisions about their future."
The funding will be utilized within a 6-month exercise, from July to December and will apply the same procedures and criteria for status determination as has been used in the past. The funds however will significantly enhance capacity and all nationalities will benefit from these increased resources. The project is not linked to resettlement, as resettlement opportunities are reducing in South-East Asia given the critical needs and gaps elsewhere in the world. In 2015, only 0.66 per cent of the world's refugees were resettled.
There are currently more than 2,000 refugees and more than 6,000 asylum-seekers from nearly 50 countries living in urban areas of Thailand.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: "The grant from ECHO will provide solace to many asylum seekers no doubt especially the huge number of Pakistani Christians who have been living their lives in limbo for several years. When I spoke to some of the victims of re-persecution in Thailand they were elated with the news, but still found it regrettable that despite the increased efforts of Europe and the UNHCR in Thailand, the Royal Thai Government still persists with an aggressive campaign designed to make the lives of asylums seekers and refugees impossible. "
He added: "The UNHCR as a body are assigned the role of protectors of asylum seekers and refugees, not simply assessors of claims. They are duty bound to improve the lives of the large number of stranded persecution victims in Thailand, and I urge them to end the Royal Thai Authority's brutal treatment of those seeking asylum in Thailand. Quite simply women and children should be protected from arrest, especially those pregnant even better still any registered asylum seeker/ refugee should be exempted from arrest. Moreover, education, healthcare and fair access to employment should be mandatory."