Arrested Pakistani Christian women


A BBC investigation has found that Thailand, a country known for its hospitality to tourists, routinely arrests and detains asylum seekers.

Many are Pakistani Christians who have fled religious persecution in their own country. Some are children. And they are held despite being UN-registered asylum seekers, whom the UN is under a duty to protect.

The sound of the faithful in prayer and song bursts out of a small rented room where a congregation of more than 100 people have gathered for Sunday mass.

They would be risking their lives to worship like this in their homeland, where Islamist extremists force Christians to convert, or even kill them.

Leading the prayers is Pastor Joshua, a Christian from Lahore, in what is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Along with thousands of other Christians, he’s had to flee to Thailand and still fears the people in Pakistan who punished him for converting from Islam to Christianity.

“My bone was broken – the one right above the heart. And they tried to cut my arm off,” he says.

“My sister was murdered, she was burned alive, just because she spoke the word ‘God’. They hate the word ‘God’ so much. She was burned for this reason alone.”

The Pakistani Christians head to Thailand because it’s easy to enter the country on a short-term tourist visa and in Pakistan’s hostile neighbourhood there are few safe options closer to hand.

But there is hardly a welcoming committee in Thailand.

The country doesn’t want asylum seekers from anywhere. It is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, and anyone without a valid visa or a work permit risks being arrested, charged with illegal immigration and jailed.

A Pakistani man arrested as an illegal immigrant is released on bail in 2011Image copyrightAFP
Image captionA Pakistani man arrested as an illegal immigrant is released on bail in 2011

Thailand has allowed the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, to step in and investigate the credibility of those claiming to flee persecution – a process with two possible outcomes, either repatriation or relocation to another country. But many of these families say they’ve been waiting years to be assessed by the UN and they have no access to work, education or healthcare.

As they await the outcome of their case, thousands of Pakistani asylum seekers set up temporary home in dingy rooms in a network of tower blocks on the outskirts of Bangkok. People who were once comfortably-off professionals arrive with just a few possessions, their rent and food paid for by local Christian charities.

And they live in constant fear.

The Thai immigration police have lost patience with the UN’s failure to process asylum cases in good time, one young father tells me, holding a 25-week-old baby in his arms.

 

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