Bangkok’s capacity to handle the rush of refugees and asylum seekers from Pakistan is now at breaking point.
There are approaching 8,000 asylum seekers in Bangkok, with many arriving in recent months as the swirl of violence increases in many places. A significant majority of the asylum seekers are Pakistani Christians, according to agency workers dealing with the arrivals. In recent months, asylum seekers from Syria have joined them.
The escapees from Pakistan report their being persecuted by Islamic militants licensed to do what they like to “infidels”.
“Overwhelmed is about the nicest way of putting it,” said the leader of one Catholic agency offering emergency help who spoke on condition that he and his agency were not quoted as making any demands.
“Exhausted, under resourced and just hanging on might be a better of capturing the experience,” he added.
Asylum seekers coming from Pakistan get a sympathetic hearing from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) because its officers know what Pakistan Christians are subject to in their homeland.
But the UNHCR’s resources are stretched to the limit. Since October 2013, the waiting times for would-be refugees to have their cases for refugee status heard have blown out from 18 months from their date of arrival in Bangkok to now waiting three and a half to four years to get their story and status assessed.
The delays of years before refugee status is confirmed has triggered protests outside the UNHCR headquarters in Bangkok by recent Syrian arrivals, according refugee support workers. The UN agency has responded by trying to create a mobile registration service in different parts of Bangkok. It claims that the terms of its tenancy applying in their headquarters only permit on ten refugees at a time to be in the building.
Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to generate asylum seekers fearful that what happened on April 16 could be their lot. In Holy Week, a 22 year old janitor, a Christian living in Lahore, was shot in the head by a Muslim security guard colleague when the Christian refused to convert to Islam.
Haroon, also known as Sunny, had recently been employed and his assailant, Umer Farooq, had been pressuring him to convert to Islam which Haroon declined and as a result was shot dead.
Routine abuse, casual beatings in the work place or in social venues and regular murders are the lot of Christians in Pakistan, according to Simon, an asylum seeker from Karachi living in Bangkok.
“Christians are taunted with being told ‘you are Christians, you are not patriotic Pakistanis because in fact you belong to the Americans, the British or Gora people who kill our Muslim brothers and sisters’,” Simon said.
Under blasphemy laws applying in Pakistan an assailant can simply claim that someone has insulted the Prophet, presenting no supporting testimony or evidence other than the accusation and the individual is said to be entitled to execute the offending “infidel”. What is worse, the police and courts in Pakistan are prevented from charging anyone who claims their lethal violence was motivated by the Muslim faith and so cannot be brought to justice.
“Where can we Pakistani Christians have to go in to world?” Simon asks. “We are Christians for Muslims states and so not welcome there. We are Pakistanis for other countries and not welcome in them either. Where do we find a home?”