By Dan Wooding, Special to ASSIST News Service
BANGKOK, THAILAND (ANS – September 11, 2015) — In a major police crackdown in Bangkok, Thailand hundreds of asylum seekers were arrested for overstaying their tourist visas. The majority of those arrested were the ignored Pakistani Christian asylum seeker community, two Somali families and one Afghan family.
According to Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), “At 10 am on September 10th, 2015, immigration officers visited Delight Condos in Pracha Uthit, Soi 51, accompanied by a mass of police officers and the military forces of Thailand.
“Security forces have been clamping down on illegal immigration since the recent bomb blast in Bangkok’s center at the Erawan Hindu shrine, one of Thailand’s most famous and popular tourist locations.
“Over 100 asylum seekers from many nations were questioned by the police and 91 were taken to the infamous and brutal Immigration Detention Centre, in the capital. The Thailand United Nations Commission for Human Rights (UNHCR) negotiated the release of 27 of those captured under the terms of asylum seekers with ‘special concerns,’ none of whom were Pak-Christians. The special terms included vulnerable women who were pregnant and their children, and the elderly.”
A spokesperson for BPCA went on to say, “This current negotiation is quite a precedent by the UNHCR and follows the submission of a report on the scandal of the UNHCR with Pak-Christians that was delivered in by our Chairman Wilson Chowdhry in person to the Senior Protection Officer at the UNHCR Peter Trotter, in Bangkok on Tuesday September 9th, 2015.”
The report commissioned by the BPCA, and co-authored by two genocide scholars, Professor Rainer Rothfuss and former Senior lecturer at De Montford University, Desmond Fernandes, contained details of the insouciance [casual lack of concern] towards asylum seekers in Thailand by the UNHCR and highlighted that although the Thai Government had not signed UN Conventions on Asylum – nether the 1951 or 1967 versions – they had signed the following conventions, which meant the UN had a significant responsibility to ensure adherence to:
* Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (December 10, 1948)
* International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (October 29, 1996)
* Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (October 2, 2007)
* Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (January 9, 2012)
* Convention on the Rights of the Child (March 27, 1992).
According to a report sent to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net), it primarily focuses on the rights of Pak-Christian asylum seekers who make up the largest body of asylum seekers in Thailand, reported to be around 4,600 by the UN, but the German NGO International Society for Human Rights placed the figure much higher at 8,000. The report highlights the delay in Resettlement Status Determinations (RSD) for which an interview can take up to 4 years, leaving victims easily deportable, from here refugees status can take a further 4 years and resettlement a similar period.
“The UN documents have no worth in Thailand and arrest are indiscriminate of those with or without them,” said the BPCA spokesperson. “The report describes the scandalous overcrowding in Thailand’s Detention center; the disturbing failure to process asylum applications with many delayed until 2018; poor levels of resources and personnel for the UNHCR; failure to provide or permit legal representation for detainees; failure to protect women and children; inadequate and flawed translation provision often by Muslims to Christians who believe they have a biased agenda; the denial of education for children and young people; meagre health care, leading to deteriorating conditions and deaths of refugees while detained and soon after release; and dismissal of evidence detailing an escalation in violence against the tiny Christian minority and the well-founded fear of lethal persecution.”
Despite the report, the UNHCR believes the main failing is with the Thai Government. A spokesperson said: “In my view, a primary focus of advocacy efforts should be the main source of the challenge, namely the RTG (Royal Thai Government) and the absence of a legal framework for addressing the needs of persons of seeking international protection.”
The BPCA is calling for the UNHCR to pursue “better rights” for Pakistani Christian asylum seekers “by calling for a reassessment of the current risk profiling.”
However, the UNHCR cites Britain’s Home Office policy statement (Feb 2013) that Pakistani Christians “don’t suffer persecution.” Theresa May summarizes the policy as such: “Christians in Pakistan are a religious minority who, in general, suffer discrimination, but this is not sufficient to amount to a real risk of persecution.”
The BPCA spokesperson said that the UNHCR “does not need to follow any particular country for their assessments” and added, “we call on them to review the positions of countries such as Holland and Canada who have both adopted ‘High Risk’ status for Pak-Christians.”
The BPCA says that it is also launching a campaign to improve the current “misinformed position held by Britain.”
Lord Alton, a British Peer, at a meeting with Wilson Chowdhry in Bangkok on Tuesday said: “The exodus from Pakistan is driven by visceral hatred and a fanatical disregard for the rights of minorities. In a country where the brave Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, can be murdered in broad daylight, where churches are bombed, where an illiterate woman can be sentenced to death of alleged blasphemy charges, where a husband and wife can be burnt alive in front of their young children, and where there is a culture of impunity which rarely leads to those responsible being brought to justice, it is little wonder that many Christians are fleeing for their lives. It doubly compounds their suffering when the international community fails to step up to the plate in defense of those who have to endure such pitiless suffering and hardship.”
BPCA has set up a fund for the release of Pakistani Christians asylum seekers, for whom it will cost about £1000 ($1,542.90USD) to release on bail.
“Once released on bail, families have a two-year protection from re-arrest and we hope and pray that many of you will help us to deliver them from the awful conditions in the IDC,” said the BPCA spokesperson.
During his visit, Lord Alton went to see the Thailand Immigration Detention Centre following a conversation with Chairman of the BPCA in June.
During his visit to Thailand he said that he had noticed the “despicable conditions of asylum seekers” who he stated were “caged within the undersized and over-capacitated cells in which refugees numbering in their hundreds are forced to sleep crouching, standing up, laying over one another and have to organize themselves into sleeping shifts.”
Food, he said, consists of boiled cucumber and rice in small proportions and all inmates look “presentably emaciated.” Lord Alton added that toilets are “flooded and overflowing,” and are “too few for the number of detainees and create a rancid stench that is overpowering.”
Wilson Chowdhry of the BPCA said: “Pakistani Christians are the most ignored persecuted minority globally, despite the copious amount of evidence pertaining to the ever-present danger of persecution they face. Britain and America hold disingenuous positions with regards to asylum for Christians form Pakistan, based on protection of their existing economic ties through trade agreement and their desire to continue ally status in the war against terror.
“This is unhealthy and limits the desire for change in the corrupt nation of Pakistan, which has become a birthing ground for extremists and has now resulted in UNCHR misinformation, allowing millions to continue suffering and thousands who escaped violence to become re-persecuted.
“Unchallenged, the existing protocols will mean many will continue to live in terror or die in despicable circumstances. The UNHCR must simply undertake more research on the quality of life for Pakistani Christians, maybe in the form of an officer living with a Christian family to understand the real implications of religious intolerance in Pakistan.
“Please consider giving to our work for the innocent.”
For further information on how you can help, please log onto http://www.britishpakistanichristians.co.uk/
Photo captions: 1) Approximately 100 Pakistani Christian refugees sleep in one room in Thailand’s Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok. (Photo: British Pakistani Christian Association). 2) Lord Alton (center) with friends, as they leave the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok. 3) A Pakistani Christian woman collapses in Thailand. (BPCA) 4) Dan Wooding with his award from the BPCA (Photo: Norma Wooding).
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books. Wooding and has been given a special award by the British Pakistani Christian Association for his reporting on Pakistani Christian persecution.
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