London: September 13, 2016. (PCP) A process change by the UNHCR based in Bangkok that seems to deliberately target Pakistani Christians who make up the largest body of asylum seekers in Thailand, has caused alarm and consternation amongst the advocacy and humanitarian groups providing aid to them.
The policy has been described as ‘disturbing’ by an on the ground campaigner , who has also stated that the change in policy‘ disproportionately affects Pakistani Christians, since they are the largest refugee population here in Bangkok, and are more likely than most refugees to have their application for refugee status rejected.’
The new policy has drastically reduced the time that refugees have to file a notice of appeal. The deadline for filing appeal documents has been reduced from 90 to 30 days.
To make matters worse the UNHCR has also determined that they will no longer communicate any reasons for refusal in their own language. Previously, the asylum seekers' refusal was read to them in their own language. From now on, asylum seekers will only receive their refusal letter in English.
Together, these new policies place a devastating burden on refugees already dealing with the emotional trauma of a rejection.
The re-persecution of Pak-Christians is no new phenomena.On their arrival at Thailand they soon discover they are unwanted when their travel visa expires and they apply for asylum at the UNHCR. Here they are advised that despite having an official UN asylum registration Thailand's refusal to sign UN conventions on asylum means that their status is illegal. The 1000 or more Pak-Christians in Thailand are being arrested and detained in the brutal Immigration Detention Centres of Bangkok. Here food paucity, cell cramming, and the spread of infection is debilitating the Christian community. With morale and confidence at their lowest ebb, many Pakistani Christians are seeking a return home. The obvious rejection has forced them to accept a lifetime of fear, abuse and persecution. To help ease the suffering of those who want to return Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association met with the Third Secretary at the Pakistani Embassy in Thailand. During discussions Mr Kamran Dhangal accepted that Pakistan as a nation had failed it's Christian minority. He expressed in no uncertain terms that all citizens of Pakistan in Thailand would be treated equally and fairly. He described an international fund provided by the Pakistani Foreign Office to care for and support their international communities. Funds were available for serious medical conditions that could be proven by a visit to the hospital and invoices from the hospital, he also advised that in special circumstances of financial deprivation repatriation fees for dead bodies and the cost of the flight for return of the dead body could be provided.
BPCA were able to test out the offer of the free repatriation and cost of flight for dead body when an asylum seeker named Cyril Kamran (RIP) died on Sunday 21st August 2016. When we approached the Pakistani Embassy for help and support for the family they refused without explanation.
Kamran Dhungal explained to us how he visited the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) every week, trying to persuade Pakistani Christians that they should return home. He yielded little success and we explained this was due to mistrust in promises made by the Government. We offered to assist and approached families both inside and outside the IDC. We encouraged those with family members in the IDC to return home for the health of the victims in the IDC, we were surprised at the take up. Quite clearly the attrition of the triumvirate of UNHCR, Royal Thai Government and Pakistani Government has withered away the Pak-Christian resolve. Caught in a quandary they simply want to return home to the 'devil they know'. We provided a list of around 20 victims and asked for help towards financing the fare of their return to Pakistan. Sadly the Pakistani Embassy and the Royal Thai Government refused. This was painful as in our discussions an affer for flights for those asylum seekers detained in the IDC was guaranteed. Moreover the Pakistani Government had given us a name for a Royal Thai Government RTG) official who had previously stated that such fares would be covered by RTG, for asylum seekers outside the IDC. Our disappointment was compounded when Puchphop Mongkolaalvin a Minister at the Thai Embassy in London, who has been exchanging regular emails with us, also did not respond. So it is quite obvious here that despite citizenship for Pakistan which is not revoked during the asylum process, the Government of Pakistan will not assist their Christian community. They pay lip service and offer the world but the reality is something else. Wilson Chowdhry has asked for a freedom of Information request on a comparison of the number of Pakistani Muslims that have received grants from the Pakistani Embassy in Thailand towards medical costs, repatriations costs and return flights, against similar recipients from the Christian and other minorities. The Embassy has failed to respond. We have written a complaint to the 108 emails registered on the Overseas Pakistani officers and partners directory, so far one diplomat from Saudi Arabia has responded and suggested we contact others on that list. It seems even this new government department is tired of the Christian issue.
British Pakistani Christian Association Chairman, Wilson Chowdhry has been a long term campaigner for better UNHCR modus operandi for the suffering Pak-Christian asylum seekers, who continue to face a previously inconceivable rejection by the international community. Western nations ignore their plight due to a belief that the laws and practices in Pakistan are equal, fair and practicable. Yet in the last four years Christians in Pakistan have been targeted in 4 bomb attack by Islamic militant groups, a fact that has yet to register with the UN. They continue to delay Pak-Christian refugee determination for periods of up to 7 years, despite having received a 300 euro grant that has resulted in the hiring of additional assessors. The BPCA has no idea who is being expedited through the deployment of additional officers. We can say with some certainty however that it is not Pakistani Christians.
The shocking revelation in 2014 that an estimated 700 Christian girls were being kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriage,has done little to dent the American or British Government mindset, but then again, all three nations are fighting a war against terror against the 'real extremists' together, so perhaps the US and UK vision has been clouded by the ally status held by Pakistan. Even though the commitment by Pakistan is so often questioned, no more so then when Bin Ladin was killed outside of Pakistan's knowledge.
Sadly Christian NGO's believe the figures provided for the abduction and forced marriage of Christian girls is at least double the 700 quoted, by Muslim NGO 'Movement of Solidarity and Peace'. Moreover, the marriage laws that are meant to protect innocent Christian girls are actually being used to retain them in forced marriages - contravening the belief that the legal system of Pakistan is fair and proving it is more equal if you are a Muslim.
The plight of Christians from across the globe is being ignored by western nations despite clear evidence that they are the most persecuted of all communities. Britain's own home office policy was questioned after it came to light that refusals were based on much ridiculed mechanisms for assessing an asylum applicants Christianity. This latest move by the UNHCR in Thailand evidences that Christians simply are no longer welcome anywhere. BPCA are calling for western nations to review this treatment of Christians and create a sanctuary for them.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said: "Pakistani Christians find themselves in a nadir, they are not wanted by their home nation because their faith makes them ritually impure, the equivalent of a demon. They cannot seek asylum in the west as Christians are not welcome there anymore, and they face definite re-persecution in Bhuddist, Hindu and other Muslim nations - if they can even get there. The international community needs to think long and hard on this issue, persecution for Christians across the globe is increasing rapidly. To stem the tide a sanctuary has to be declared for them."