End the persecution of Christian refugees in Thailand
Thousands of Christians flee Pakistan every year due to religious persecution and seek safe places to live freely. Many refugees, such as those from Pakistan, have in recent years fled to Thailand. Despite decades of experience with hosting millions of refugees, Thailand’s refugee policies remain problematic. The process is fragmented, unpredictable, and inadequate. It leaves refugees unnecessarily vulnerable to arbitrary and abusive treatment. Many refugees, for example, are forced underground or face new persecutions and arrests for ‘overstaying’ in Thailand due to inadequate administrative and resettlement processes.
Historically, religious minorities in Pakistan including Christians face great risks due to their draconian blasphemy laws:
- In 1927, the British colonial rulers of the sub-continent made it a criminal offence to commit “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious belief”. The law did not discriminate between religions
- The law was retained when Pakistan gained independence in 1947
- In the late 1970's Pakistan’s late military ruler Mohammed Ziaul Haq, made several additions to its blasphemy laws, including life imprisonment for those defiling or desecrating the Holy Quran
- The death penalty for anyone found guilty of defaming Islam was introduced in 1986
- Ten blasphemy cases were reportedly heard in court in the 58 years between 1927 and 1985, but since then more than 4,000 cases have been handled
In fact, the mere accusation of blasphemy in Pakistan is enough to make someone a target for hardliners, as is defending those accused of blasphemy or calling for the laws to be reformed. Christians have being killed, targeted and falsely accused of blasphemy. Because of the persecution, many Christians have fled from Pakistan to Thailand. In March 2016, World Watch Monitor reported that there were as many as 11,500 Pakistanis seeking asylum in Thailand, a 51% increase from the previous year.
Pastor Joshua, is 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."
For Pakistanis, it is easy and inexpensive to obtain a 30-day tourist visa to Thailand. However, after the tourist visa expires, Thailand considers these refugees to be illegal immigrants. As Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention) or its 1967 Protocol, it has no refugee law or formalised asylum procedures. The lack of a legal framework leaves refugees and asylum seekers in a precarious state, making their stay in Thailand uncertain and their status unclear.
Without legal status, individuals have no right to work, no education and no medical treatment rights. Anyone without a valid visa or a work permit risks being arrested and charged with illegal immigration and jailed. Refugees also fear being forced into the harsh conditions in immigration detention centres or in jail with hardened criminals, until they’re bailed out, can pay for a return flight, or are resettled.
In April last year, the BBC aired a documentary which highlighted the plight of those, who, having “overstayed”, were then arrested and locked up in detention centres in Thailand. Members of the British Parliament urged the Thai government to adopt a harsher official assessment of Pakistan’s treatment of Christians. The MPs expressed their concerns that the UN officials in Thailand were not sufficiently concerned that Christians, in particular, were facing “a real risk of persecution” if returned to their home country.
The documentary drew global attention to the plight of Christian refugees in Pakistan and some positive responses were made by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand. Procedures for issuing refugees with a UN document, which certifies them as an "internationally recognised UN person of concern" at the time increased. This meant that refugees were able to stay in Thailand without fear of being arrested or detained for seeking asylum while the UN investigated their case. It appears however that this was short lived and the process has again slowed leaving refugees in limbo.
As they await the outcome of their case, thousands of Pakistani asylum seekers set up a 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 of arrest.
Thailand is also a signatory to the Convention to the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 22, Section 1 of CRC states, “State parties shall take measures to ensure that refugee children receive protection and assistance in the enjoyment of their rights to which the said States are parties." Additionally, Article 22, Section 2 mandates that nations cooperate with United Nations organisations to aid refugee children in reunifying with their families. Thailand is failing to provide this protection for young children of refugees.
HOPE Worldwide-Pakistan (HOPE) a not for profit organisation based on Peace, Justice and Humanitarian Development is calling on the Thai government to bring an end once and for all to this crisis.
We submit this petition highlighting the ongoing concerns for the situation in Thailand. We ask that the Government of Thailand and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand immediately take action to overcome the continued persecution of Christian refugees. We urge and request an immediate release of detained Pakistani Christian Refugees children and families, so they can receive protection and assistance in the enjoyment of their rights. We further request the immediate implementation of a speedy immigration process to grant permission to refugees and asylum seekers to live freely. At a minimum, at least, to give them the opportunity to continue to seek asylum without detention by introducing a special humanitarian visa and grant mercy for the period of their refugee claim to be processed. Please sign this petition now, and a copy of this petition will be sent to these agencies along with your signatures.
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