Outrage is building over the treatment of Pakistani Christian refugees in Bangkok. I wrote about this issue last month, and now the BBC has also taken it up, in a documentary about their plight.
Over recent years the persecution of Christians in Pakistan has been intensifying, with the result that more than 10,000 have fled to Thailand seeking asylum. But in numerous cases they are arrested and jailed in Bangkok’s over-crowded immigration detention center. Using a hidden camera, a BBC journalist documented the oppressive conditions being endured by these Christians.
He was able to show some of the hundreds of asylum seekers being held in stifling heat. They include mothers, detained with their children. Many of the children are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting, due to the poor sanitation and dirty drinking water
Those of the refugees who are not in prison must often live in cramped apartments and survive on hand-outs from churches and charities, or by engaging in illegal work activities.
Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is taking years to process their claims for refugee status. Some observers say that UNHCR officials do not even regard the Pakistanis as being at a real risk of persecution in their home country.
It raises the question of why these Christians feel impelled to make the leap from the Pakistani frying pan into the Thai fire. When they realize that their fate is long years in Bangkok, unable to work legally and relying on hand-outs, and possibly even months in a detention center, why do they not simply return home?
It is not difficult to find reasons. For example, three years ago in March 2013 a mob of 3,000 Muslims attacked Joseph Colony, a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, setting fire to more than 170 homes and two churches. Also in Lahore, just one year ago, suicide bombers attacked two churches, killing 21 worshippers and injuring more than 70.
The BBC report provided further graphic examples. It featured a man named Sabir who fled Pakistan two years ago with his extended family. They now all live – 10 people – in a room with no kitchen or toilet. The UNHCR has said it will not investigate his case until 2018. Two months ago his wife was arrested.
Yet he proclaims that he does not regret leaving Pakistan, where his family was threatened with death if they did not convert to Islam. “Over here, the only fear we have is of the immigration police, nothing else,” he told the BBC.
The BBC journalist also met a pastor who says Islamists tried to cut off his arm and his sister was burned alive, as punishment for converting to Christianity.
But the online BBC report was able to end on a note of hope. It quoted a Pakistani Christian man named Daniel: “Jesus said to us, ‘if someone troubles you, don’t ask for curses for him, instead, you should ask for blessings for him.’ So, we ask for blessings for the UNHCR.”
We must pray that the same spirit of love and reconciliation might quickly touch the hearts of all officials in Thailand.