Pakistani Christians with false hopes of refugee status
Shamim Mehmood
Shamim Masih

ISLAMABAD: Religious extremism has gone to its peak since Afghan refugees entered in Pakistan. Due to the terrorism Pakistan lost thousands of its precious lives and properties. Religious banned outfits attacked on schools, worship places, parks and even on law enforcement agencies and their places. In the past years those militant organizations have targeted the religious minorities especially Christians. In the latest episode four suicide bombers, wearing suicide vests and carrying latest firearms attacked on Christian Colony, Warsak Dam, Peshawar but due to the prompt action by the security forces they were saved.

The Army Chief General Raheel Sharif played aggressive role in combating terrorism in Pakistan and due his proactive approach the ratio has been decreased. According to the recent statement by DG ISPR Lt. Gen Asim Bajwa, “Pakistan Army has eliminated the militants groups in the country.” But the very next day, the spokesperson for TTP JA, Ehsanullah Ehsan said, “We have carried out the attack.” He said the attack was a response to the Army’s spokesperson (Lt. Gen Asim Bajwa’s) press Conference who said yesterday that militant groups had been eliminated.
Religious minorities in Pakistan are already persecuted under stringent blasphemy law. Since military dictator General Zia ul Haq added new clauses in the law, minorities in the country feel insecure. And usually this law is misused and resultantly many people including Muslims either being killed or suffering in the prisons. In this critical condition, militants groups turned to attack Christians. Twin blasts in the Peshawar Church killed more than 80 worshipers and left many injured. Two churches were attacked in Youhanabad, Lahore that killed dozens of worshipers and many were injured. Later on the occasion of Easter festivity, suicide bomb blast in Iqbal Park, Lahore killed many innocent people.

In this itchy living environment, four years back persecuted Pakistani Christians started reaching Thailand seeking resettlement in the West. Thailand was one of the few countries that allow Pakistani easy entry as tourists. And nearly 10,000 Pakistani have been gathered in Bangkok, and now most of them are living an underground existence. Alas, the UNHCR offered false hope. The typical refugee waits years just for an interview, the first step to receiving official refugee status. So far, no one among them has moved on to Europe, America or anywhere else.

In the meantime, Pakistan Today reported that the Hong Kong delegation had contacted the Interior Ministry to take up the issue of increasing number of illegal Pakistani immigrants sneaking entry into Hong Kong with false hopes of “refugee status”. According to the sources, Thai government did the same about the Pakistani immegrants. Religious minorities in Pakistan face persecution. Christians are disproportionately targeted by blasphemy laws, often as retaliation for commercial and personal disputes. Sectarian murderers are publicly supported and applauded. Public response after the hang of Mumtaz Qadri is common example. Government has failed to protect victims and a “deep-rooted climate of impunity.”

Discriminatory attitude, sectarian threats and attacks drove many Christians from their homes. Asylum seekers are struck in Thailand and other neighboring countries and endure a tenuous existence. On arrival the UNHCR typically gives them an appointment set a year or two in the future; the date often is delayed as the appointment approaches. Once the visa expires, the asylum hopefuls are unable to work legally and subject to arrest whenever they leave home. The Thai authorities stake out neighborhoods and raid apartments where refugees are believed to live. Hundreds of unlucky asylum seekers have been ended up in detention and some even died during the mean time.
Some welfare organizations do their best to help refugees, providing food, sundries and legal aid. But those can only assist a limited number of families. Many of the families flow ebbed after word returned to Pakistan that there is no easy exit from Thailand, those already arrived are essentially trapped. They have sold their possessions. But they see no path forward either.

The European and the U.S. have accommodated millions of Afghan, Syrians and Egyptian Muslims in their countries; resultantly facing terrorist attacks in their countries. Why can’t they bear the people with the same faith and values? The only feasible solution is that the UNHCR High Commissioner is supposed to make a designation with 90 days and should take up this issue on priority bases. And the U.S. and other European Countries should admit people who are not only in desperate need, but “who share the same faith and values” as the people persecuted for their faith are among the best candidates to receive asylum.