The impact of the massive wave of Christian refugees from the Middle East has been so overwhelming that, sadly, we too often forget that Christian refugee groups are suffering in other parts of the world.
“Never have so many Christians been on the move as a result of war and persecution,” says the Open Doors organization, and it notes what it describes as some “quiet tragedies.” One of these is the exodus of Pakistani Christians to Thailand.
The suffering of Pakistan’s Christians – including physical attacks on Christians and their churches, the abduction, forced marriage and involuntary conversion to Islam of Christian girls, and blasphemy laws that can lead to arrests of Christians on fabricated charges – appears to be intensifying.
In the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith Pakistan is ranked sixth – up from eighth a year earlier – with the designation “extreme persecution.”
One consequence has been a steady flow of Pakistani Christians escaping their country and seeking asylum in Thailand.
According to Open Doors, about 10,000 Pakistani Christians have fled to Thailand, many of them quite recently. And here, it says, is where the real tragedy begins: “ They are badly treated and are refused refugee status by the government, so they are not allowed to work and are subject to police intimidation and forced to rely on handouts and sporadic work. Unfortunately, even Thai churches are wearying of the burden of supporting them.”
One group that is working to assist is the British Pakistani Christian Association, which recently published a lengthy report titled “Education, Human Rights Violations in Pakistan and the Scandal Involving UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and Christian Asylum Seekers in Thailand.” (The report is sold at the Association’s website, www.britishpakistanichristians.org.)
The report says that UNHCR is dragging its feet when it comes to processing Pakistani refugees, many of whom must wait years before their refugee status can be determined.
Another advocacy group for Pakistani Christians, the Farrukh Saif Foundation, is actually preparing a lawsuit against UNHCR, asking: “Why does UNHCR keep the Pakistani Christian asylum seekers on hold for four to five years, making them hostages, and not resolving their cases at the earliest according to their own guidelines, so that these people won´t be living in a limbo for years with false hopes and illusion of being protected and resettled?”
Fortunately, not all Thai churches are weary of the Pakistani influx. A local pastor known as Papa Thongchai runs the Urdu Church in Hands of God, which provides a special ministry to Pakistanis in Bangkok.
But this is just one small stream into an ocean of rising despair. Such recent headlines as “Bangkok, the Silent Graveyard of Pakistani Christians” and “Asylum-Seeking Christian Mom Dies in Thailand Police Detention on Christmas Eve” foreshadow a growing tragedy that must no longer be kept quiet.