Visiting Persecuted Christians stranded in Bangkok 10-15 March 2016
Author: Ewa Samvik
Why don’t the Christian communities not do more to help their sisters and brothers who are forced to live in hopeless misery in one of the world’s most popular tourist countries?
Hans Erling Jensen, International Director for Hatune Foundation International, visited Bangkok on 10-15 March this year. During his stay in Bangkok he met a number of Pakistani refugees, living illegally in Thailand.
(In this article we do not mention any names to avoid any discomfort for the persons cited).
- The persecution of Christians in Pakistan is an old and well-known phenomenon. Considering that Pakistan is a nation with more than 200 million inhabitants, 97% are Muslims, the rest are Christians, Hindus and other marginal minorities. In numbers you can roughly estimate that Christians make up around 2.5 million people.
- During the last 50 years Christians have lived as second range citizens mostly in urban areas and trying to keep themselves safe gathering in bigger communities. The facts is, that the attacks on Christians in Pakistan are escalating. The last huge blast in Lahore where more than 70 Christians were killed and more than 200 severely injured, was – if we shall believe the Muslim organization behind the bombing – a retribution for the assassination of the murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, who killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. The governor was killed by one of his personal guards in 2011, when he publicly declared, that he intended to reform the Pakistani blasphemy laws – as a result of the case against Bibi Asia.
- During the last 4-5 years approximately 3.200 Pakistani Christians fled Pakistan, using one of the easiest – and cheapest – ways to leave the country. They went to Bangkok equipped with ordinary tourist visas, and there they applied for asylum. They are now registered as refugees at the local UNHCR office. A huge problem is, that the Thai authorities never approved the global “refugee” convention. Therefore they consider the Pakistani Christians – and all other people that apply for asylum in Thailand – as illegal immigrants.
Travelling to Bangkok
Hans Erling Jensen’s aim with the trip to Bangkok was primarily to meet the Christian refugees from Pakistan and secondarily to meet with local representatives for the UN(HCR) – who, although they have no legal rights in Thailand, has the overall responsibility for asylum registered refugees in the area and, based on the information he could achieve, try to find ways how to help the stranded refugees out of their unhappy situation.
Hans Erling also helped more than 20 families with the limited cash he brought with him. Some of the people he met had family members who after being arrested in Bangkok were placed in the IDC (Immigration Detention Center) administrated by the Thai police authorities.
Before meeting the UNHCR he had comprehensive conversations with three families staying in different areas, having different experiences, different stories. But they all knew about each other.
One of the refugees, 29 year old photographer, for the moment equipped with a short time legal visa to Thailand, guided him around in the environment during his stay. He and his wife live in a five floor apartment house with endless tiny rooms in a suburban area together with many other families on the run.
In the 10 square meters room furnished with a double bed and a cupboard plus a small bathroom and a tiny balcony serving as kitchen the many families hide, constantly in a state of entitled fear of being arrested because of their lack of papers.
“Right now my husband has papers”, she explained to Mr. Jensen, “but if the immigration police shows up now (which has happened a couple of times during the last two years) they would take me to the detention center. So I am normally staying at home – in our room – I am too afraid to go out. I am afraid ending up in the detention, and being alone, without my husband! I don’t think I would survive a week there!”
The Hatune Foundation International intend to gather the necessary information from different countries all around the world to list the possibilities – if any – for people to achieve legal papers and resettle where it is possible.
“We have no special wishes – we are willing to go anywhere, we just want our freedom. Our freedom to walk safely and without fear in the streets and to work with whatever we can find. We will be valuable citizens wherever we go”, the photographer said.
One of the first days of his visit Mr. Jensen visited the IDC. The security was high. A week before BBC launched a program where a cameraman had filmed a longer sentence from the center with hidden camera. That was not very popular among the guards and the body search before entering the common visiting area was zealous.
The contact between the inmates and the visitors took place on each side of a 10 meter fence separated with a 1 meter middle path. Everybody screamed their messages to each other. The room was hot and the air stood still while tears were rolling on both sides. Some of the refugees had been there for months and had no idea how to get out of there and what their future will bring.
Mr. Jensen contributed with food and money for a 53 year old lady with no family in Bangkok. She was from Lahore. Her husband died six months earlier – on the run. Sajida is now depending on the help that she can get from outside.
After the visit to the IDC, Hans Erling focused on the families who have a member imprisoned or deported back to Pakistan. Unfortunately, the Hatune Foundation sees no fast or easy solutions to helping people get out of neither the IDC nor Bangkok.
Meeting the UNHCR representative
Told by Hans Erling Jensen:
I met a UNHCR representative, Katsunori Koike, the day before I left Bangkok. Mr. Katsu – as the people outside calls him – is a very open minded person who is absolutely aware of the Christian Pakistanis situation. He expressed his frustration concerning certain people from the Pakistani environment, who earlier had tried to make him personally responsible for the problems the refugees have with the Thai authorities. “It is”, he said, “like people refuse to understand the situation in Bangkok – which, among other things, depends on the global situation, where the UNHCR for the time being is under the highest pressure ever concerning resources.”
I ensured Mr. Katsu, that I was there to get an overview over the situation and trying to find ways to help, not to find scapegoats. We both agreed upon the evidence, that people who find themselves in hopeless situations often in their fear and powerlessness blames others for their situation. It is human, and those who are in deep need are easily influenced by people with hidden or selfish aims.
Mr. Katsu wowed to help in any matter possible for him as a representative for the UNHCR. I consider this promise seriously and in this moment I am trying to figure out what we can do, and what kind of possible help we can ask for!
One of the issues I heard from several refugees having visited UNHCR, was that reps from UNHCR encouraged the refugees to look for sponsors abroad. Canada was mentioned some times, and I asked Mr. Katsu if that is a normal policy to bring that up in the dialogue with people on the run, and he confirmed:
“It is great if people can solve their own situation and find a better life through friends or other organizations, as we are in a time, where the UN is suffering, not only from lack of resources, but also from enormous numbers of refugees. Most of them forced from their homes, like in the Middle East, needing immediate help.”
In Hatune Foundation we know about all these problems. We also understand that the UN cannot solve the fact that nearly 50 million people all over the world need help in one way or another. After leaving Bangkok I hope I have been able to give a more actual picture of reality – not that this help the people suffering in the present situation, but hopefully it will generate some creativity. The future will show.
What did it all end up with?
As you already understand Mr. Jensen could not do much concrete on the spot. But something came out of it anyway.
We have decided to work with the families “one by one”. That is the strategy for now.
First step is to establish a database with all the necessary information about the individual or family. Today people are waiting their turn for a meeting with UNHCR or the immigration authorities and then in the far future they get one opportunity to tell their story. We want that story to be easily available for all relevant stakeholders at any time. It is essential for the applicant who looks for a sponsor – whether this is in Ecuador, Germany or Canada – that people in the sponsor end can understand their stories.
We hope to have this framework (database) working during this summer. Of course it will not be public. Not for authorities nor for anybody in the world seeking a better future – that would be to overwhelming. People have to qualify to participate – in both ends.
One concrete action was decided during the journey. Over at least one year – or as long as it is needed – we intend to supply the people from the Bangkok-group who are imprisoned, with extra food and other necessities, which will be delivered twice a week by our volunteers in Bangkok visiting the IDC inmates.
Please help us continue the work for our Christian sisters and brothers fleeing a more and more unsecure Pakistan.
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