By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
BANGKOK, THAILAND (ANS – August 5, 2016) – In recent weeks the world has been shocked by indiscriminate shootings in the Munich attack, the slaying of dozens by a crazed lorry driver in Nice during the Bastille Day attack and the unwarranted murder of 85-year-old Catholic Priest Father Jacques Hamel.
All of the attacks above have been attributed to Islamic extremism a phenomenon all too familiar to Pakistan’s beleaguered Christians.
Now, on Tuesday, August 2nd, emboldened by the recent visit of Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), Pakistani Christians from across Thailand, gathered in Bangkok to share a time of prayer and reflection.
According to a BPCA (http://www.britishpakistanichristians.org) report, “Many of those gathered had met in a large cluster in the public streets of Thailand for their first time ever, during their unforgiving tenure as UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] registered asylum seekers.
“Meeting in this fashion draws attention and could lead to their arrest and long term incarceration in the brutal Immigration Detention Centers of Thailand. This is because Thailand is not a signatory to international UN Conventions for Asylum and determine that asylum seekers and visa over stayers.”
Attending the vigil was George Naz, a man who now suffers the ignominy of re-persecution after being a voice for many victims of persecution in Pakistan. His bold stance against extremism which has included leading televised protests, led to him be targeted by clerics and fleeing Pakistan to avoid sentencing under false blasphemy charges.
He has been in Thailand two-and-a-half years and is still awaiting his initial interview that should lead to his Refugee Determination Status [RSD] with the UNHCR.
George Naz said: “We cannot stay silent. We must speak out against these atrocities. When we choose to ignore the plight of others, we are only serving to embolden extremists and, in the long term. we all will suffer.”
During the event, George Naz prayed for unity amongst mankind and for the scourge of extremism that has encompassed the Islamic world to be purged through love. He called for succor and peace to be restored in the lives of families who have lost loved ones to extremist violence.
While the vigil was underway, local police officers came to investigate what to them seemed like a disturbance. They started to take pictures and aggressively asked what purpose was behind the gathering. So Wilson Chowdhry, himself born in Pakistan and now living in the UK, explained the desire for Christians to seek peace and remember those who had recently lost their lives. He also said that the rapid powerful beating of hearts of asylum seekers had a palpable resonance. Fear of arrest has made the Pakistani Christian asylum seekers – who make up the largest body of asylum seekers in Thailand – anxious in the presence of Thai police.
“Nevertheless,” said BPCA in their report, “they stayed where they were, trusting God and the police officers who appeared to be moved by the nature of the vigil, agreed for the group to continue with their reflections. The police officers even permitted pictures of themselves standing in solidarity with assembled Christians – though they continued to take pictures of the group during that process.”
Emboldened by the reaction of the police, a French embassy employee joined the vigil and received flowers from the BPCA, agreeing to deliver them to the French Ambassador with a short note of condolence and support for the Nice attack.
After completing the handover of the flowers to the embassy staff member, the vigil group rapidly set off towards the German Embassy, eager to hold a similar vigil at there and to escape the stifling presence of local police officers who, they feared, could potentially turn nasty at any point.
“On arrival at the German Embassy, things were much easier as an embassy staff member was present in the reception booth,” said BPCA. “He gave consent for the vigil but ordered that it be complete within 5 minutes. Rather hurriedly the group lit candles, prayed and held a minute silence and reflection on what had happened in Munich in late July when nine people were killed and 16 others injured in a shooting rampage at a busy shopping district in Munich, Germany.
Realizing the group were not dangerous an embassy employee also joined the vigil and flowers were received by him to be delivered to the German Embassy.
James Anthony Carlos a BPCA volunteer from Australia, said: “I was profoundly moved, that despite the hardships encountered by our brothers and sisters in Christ. They were compelled to brave the night and show their solidarity.”
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, then said: “The Pakistani Christian asylum seeker community in Thailand suffer greatly in their chosen place of safety, worse still, they are victims of extremism the likes of which people in the west simply cannot fathom.
“Despite having to cope with their own anguish and pain, they had a strong desire to show their solidarity with the victims of the heinous violence in France and Germany. Innocent people died in these attacks and the clear message of this vigil was, ‘We share your pain.’”
He added: “Pakistani Christians are not calling for violence or revenge, but for mankind to stop it’s decline into base hatred of one another. In his moving testimony, George Naz spoke of how he raised a voice for persecuted minorities in Pakistan, and has had to pay a heavy price for doing so.
“Despite his sacrifice, there is no-one to help him now that he lives so ignominiously. My challenge to the west is for them to consider the plight of Christians in the Islamic world. Where is the sanctuary for these Christians?”
BPCA paid for all associated costs for the protest, including travel fares for the vigil guests. Their spokesperson said that BPCA helps Pakistani Christians survive the “harsh realities of their unaccepted asylum status in Thailand.” So, if you would like to donate to their aid work, which includes the establishment of underground schools for children, shelter and food for victims, bail fees for arrested visa over stayers, and much more, then please click http://www.britishpakistanichristians.org/CampaignProcess.aspx?A=Link&VID=8996625&KID=40342&LID=147095.
To sign the BPCA asylum seekers in Thailand petition, please go to: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/asylum-by-right.
And to watch BBC documentary on these asylum seekers in Thailand, as reported by journalist, Chris Rogers, go to: http://www.britishpakistanichristians.org/BlogRetrieve.aspx?PostID=696929&A=SearchResult&SearchID=526557&ObjectID=696929&ObjectType=55
In this powerful documentary, Chris Rogers went undercover in Thailand to expose how the country treats its asylum seekers. Pakistani Christians fleeing extremist violence are among the second largest group of asylum seekers in Thailand. Many are routinely rounded up and sent indefinitely to immigration detention centers or locked up in jails. Their crime: to be seeking asylum, in a country which does not recognize refugees. Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association helped Chris Rogers with the program, and organized direct contact with victims being helped by the BPCA.
Photo captions: 1) Murdered French priest. 2) Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand being taken to a detention center. 3) BBC journalist, Chris Rogers and Wilson Chowdhry, sharing a meal with Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand. 4) French Embassy employee receives flowers from BPCA vigil while police officer takes his own pictures. 5) German Embassy employee with George Naz and Wilson Chowdhry. 6) Dan Wooding with his award from the BPCA.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, who then worked with the Sudan Interior Mission, now known as SIM. He now lives in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for some 53 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 the ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author of some 45 books. He also has one weekly radio show and two TV shows all based in Southern California. Dan has received a special award from the BPCA for his long-standing reporting on the persecution of Pakistani Christians.
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