Pakistani Christian Asylum Seekers are Being Targeted by The UNHCR Through 'Disturbing' Policy Change

By Michael Ireland, ASSIST News Service On September 20, 2016

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BANGKOK, THAILAND (ANS, Sept. 19, 2016) - 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."

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The new policy has drastically reduced the time that asylum seekers have to file a notice of appeal. The deadline for filing appeal documents has been reduced from 90 to 30 days, according to the British Pakistani Christian Association (www.britishpakistanichristians.org) .

The BPCA says that, 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 asylum seekers already dealing with the emotional trauma of a rejection," said Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, in an update monitored by ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net) .

"The re-persecution of Pak-Christians is no new phenomena," Chowdhry said. "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 7,000 or more Pak-Christians in Thailand are being arrested and detained in the brutal Immigration Detention Centers of Bangkok. Here food paucity, cell cramming, and the spread of infection is debilitating the Christian community."

Pakistani Embassy 'not willing to help it's Christian citizens despite acknowledging their failures'

Chowdhry said that with morale and confidence at their lowest ebb, many Pakistani Christians are seeking a return home. "The obvious rejection in Thailand is forcing them to accept a lifetime of fear, abuse and persecution in their homeland. The UN has a scheme in operation that will pay for flights and provides a $1,000 grant to those who choose to return, however waiting lists for this service are burgeoning and delays can be up to two years. In the meanwhile many asylum seekers are starving as the Royal Thai government clamps down in illegal working."

To help ease the suffering of those who want to return, Chowdhry met with the Third Secretary at the Pakistani Embassy in Thailand.

"During discussions Kamran Dhangal accepted that Pakistan as a nation had failed it's Christian minority," Chowdhry said. "He (Dhangal) 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 patients admitted to 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 has been able to test out the offer of the free repatriation and cost of flight for dead bodies when an asylum seeker named Cyril Kamran died on Sunday, August 21, 2016. "When we approached the Pakistani Embassy for help and support for the family they refused without explanation,"said Chowdhry.

BPCA said Kamran Dhungal explained 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 a mistrust in promises made by the Government," said Chowdhry.

"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 refused. This was painful as in our discussions with Dhangal an offer 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 to the Pakistani High Commission that such fares would be covered by RTG."

Chowdhry went on to say: "We have since received an email from Puchphop Mongkolnavin, a minister at the Thai Embassy in London, who has met with us and has been exchanging regular emails with us. He has agreed to look into the possibility of financing the flights for Pak-Christian asylum seekers desiring a return home. This is now our only feasible option and would be an extremely magnanimous gesture by the Royal Thai Government."

He added: "It became quite obvious to us that despite the existing citizenship for Pakistan which is not revoked during the asylum process, the Government of Pakistan will not assist their Christian community."

In order to understand the situation better, Chowdhry has sought a freedom of Information request. He has asked for evidence that compares the number of Pakistani Muslim grant recipients towards medical costs, repatriations and return flight costs, against similar recipients from the Christian and other Pakistani minorities in Thailand.

"The Embassy has failed to respond," Chowdhry said. "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. Unfortunately we have got no further through this line of inquiry."

Wilson Chowdhry has been a long-term campaigner for better UNHCR modus operandi towards the suffering Pak-Christian asylum seekers, who continue to face a previously inconceivable rejection by the international community.

He stated: "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 four bomb attacks by Islamic militant groups, a fact that has yet to register with the UN who continue to delay Pak-Christian refugee determination for periods of up to 7 years, despite having received a 300,000 euro grant from the European Commission, 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 bias shown by the UNHCR towards Pakistani Christians is mirrored by many western nations," Chowdhry said. "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, who believe Pakistan is an ally and a force for good in the Middle-East. All three nations are fighting a war against terror against the 'real extremists', after all. We as a group would question Pakistan's commitment to this partnership especially regarding the need for a covert American operation to finally exterminate Bin Ladin. We find Pakistan's commitment to their Christian citizens is equally questionable."

Chowdhry states that 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 international experts believe are there 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."

More insidiously, he said, there seems to be growing evidence that the plight of Christians from across the globe are being ignored by western nations despite an obvious genocide.

"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 is calling for western nations to review this treatment of Christians and to create a place of sanctuary for them.

Chowdhry concluded: "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."

British Pakistani Christian Association is asking concerned individuals to help asylum seekers in Pakistan. Ways you can help include:

** Signing this petition for the UNHCR -- BPCA will email this to Peter Trotter, Senior Protection Officer (click here http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/unhcr-p )
** Signing this petition for the Pakistan Embassy in Thailand -- to be sent to all contacts on Overseas Pakistani Commission database (click here http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/overseas-pakistani-commission-please-help-pak-christian-citi )

Watch the BBC documentary on asylum seekers here: http://tinyurl.com/gvluk8d
BPCA also encourages individuals to contact BOTH UNHCR Geneva, and UNHCR Bangkok. The best way to address mail to Bangkok is:

UNHCR Regional Representative in Thailand
ATTN: Ms. Ruvendrini Menikdiwela
P.O. Box 2-121, 10200 Bangkok, Thailand

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Rue de Montbrillant 94, 1201 Genève, Switzerland

Please also email your concerns to:
Mr François Crépeau
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants -- migrant@ohchr.org 
For an interview with Wilson Chowdhry please call on +44 (0) 7854 972 343 or +44 (0) 208 514 0861

Michael Ireland small useAbout the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia.Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael

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