IMAGE: Sonia Waqar and her family glad that baby could be fed after receiving BACA grant.
In December 2022, the Royal Thai Government began their first national immigration crackdown since the COVID-19 pandemic. As Pakistani Christians are the largest asylum seeker community in the country they were caught up in the arrests – this included an 11 year old child. Read more (here).
British Asian Christian Association, paid all the overstay fines for Christians arrested in the raid on 5th December 2022 at Pruchunith Soi, Rat Burana. This prevented 11 year old Magdaline, her mother and 4 other Christians from being incarcerated in Thailand’s notorious Central Jail, where they would have incarcerated with rapists and murderers. There have been several other raids since then and it is believed over 60 new Christians have been arrested and detained in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centres (IDC). We have paid some of the overstay fines for these Pak-Christians too and have been providing food for detainees.
Pak-Christians in Thailand had forgotten how tough December could be due to the COVID-19 embargo on immigration raids. However, as soon as they began again the community shared details with one another and put their emergency plans in place. Many fled Bangkok where the majority of asylum seekers live and where immigration raids are most frequent and intense and went to live with family and friends living in other areas of the country.
Our lead officer in Thailand found it hard to asylum seekers dispersed in Bangkok and during the Christmas festivities of 2022, we had to abandon plans for a Christmas celebration and our monthly grant programme, as most of the families we have been assisting were in hiding.
Once the families had returned we were able to resume our work and on 15th January, BACA donated a 1,000 Baht (£25) grant to 10 families.
Duad Akhtar (45 yrs) fled Pakistan with his wife and 4 children in 2013 to escape arrest, after he was accused of blasphemy. He was arrested in 2019 by Royal Thai Immigration Police and was detained in one of Bangkok’s infamous IDCs. Mr Akhtar spent 3 years inside the IDC and was released in December 2022. His youngest daughter was sick and he had no money to buy medicine for her. He spoke with BACA about his ordeal:
“I spent three years of my life like a prisoner in Bangkok
“I fled my homeland to escape false blasphemy charges and a long imprisonment, but still lost my freedom.
“I thank God I am free now.
“It’s hard to find work at the moment and I feel like a burden to my family, as I am now an extra mouth to feed.
“The grant I have been given helps my family put food on the table and will pay for medicine for my sick child.
“I cannot express my gratitude.”
Mr Waqar (37 yrs), his wife Sonia (34 yrs) and four children fled to Thailand in October 2022. He was arrested just two months after his arrival in Thailand. Waqar is currently detained in the Bangkok IDC and we hope to extricate him via the existing bail system. His wife is now living in abject poverty with four children. Her youngest son Abner is only one year old and she was struggling to buy milk for him. With her grant she was able to purchase food including much needed milk for her vulnerable child. Sonia, said:
“I prayed for help and God gave me this grant.
“I cried when I received the funds, I really needed money to ensure Abner had milk.
“I am finding it extremely hard to survive without my husband, he has always been the main bread-winner.
“We are living of loans from other asylum-seekers and gifts from people who can see how difficult our lives have become.
“Our lives have become miserable and we do not feel welcome in Thailand, but for now we have no option.”
We distributed our grants to the following ten people, all of whom have families to support.
- Abid James (46 yrs)
- Imrana Samuel (39 yrs)
- Fairy Queen Fahad (24 yrs)
- Robina Saleem (49 yrs)
- Kiran Dawood (30 yrs)
- Lubna Melan (40 yrs)
- Nalson Mashi (67 yrs)
- Daud Akhtar (45 yrs)
- Rasheed Boota (56 yrs)
- Sonia Waqar (34 yrs)
British Asian Christian Association continues to provide grants to Pak-Christians in Thailand, we hope to increase the numbers we serve. We also hope to free more detained Christians from Thailand’s Immigration Detention Centre, utilising a bail facility that was introduced after charities including BACA applied pressure on the Royal Thai Government. This work is not cheap and each detainee set free from Bangkok’s IDC will cost us 50,000 baht (£1235). If you have been moved by this account and would like to help support us in this work you can donate (here).
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“The Royal Thai Government’s (RTG) attitude towards UNHCR registered asylum seekers and refugees is deplorable.
“They are treated like criminals and every attempt is made to make the asylum process as difficult as possible to garner high levels of assisted voluntary returns.
“Unfortunately for the RTG Pak-Christians are suffering genuine persecution and discrimination.
“Faced with blasphemy charges, death sentences, mob attacks, forced Islamic marriages and torture, Pak-Christians choose long periods of detention in brutal IDC’s.
“Instead of contributing to society these innocent victims become a burden on the state and pilloried in the press as vampiric pariahs.
“These suffering Christians are treated like anathema nearly all their lives – children are brought up thinking they are inferior because of their faith, yet their only hope is in the faith too.
“It’s an inescapable paradox to those who do not understand Christ and a cross to bear for believers.
“It must be said however, that as difficult as life is in Thailand, it’s ten times worse in Pakistan.
“Yet Pakistan proudly takes it seat on the UN Human Rights Council.” (Click here)
Since January 2022, there has been a remarkable increase in the finalizing of sponsored refugee cases. Almost 25 Christian families have been settled within Australia and Canada and more than 100 Christian families are waiting their turn for the settlement.
BACA has helped some of the refugee families pay their overstay fines before they leave Thailand for settlement in Australia or Canada and will continue to do so to make the transition as seamless as possible for these beleaguered Pak-Christians. One of the recent families we have helped were a family directly impacted by the attack on Gojra in 2009, that led to the creation of our charity.
Newer supporters may not be aware of our ground-breaking work that has allowed asylum to these two nations to include for Pak-Christians. We share this historic post which tells of how BACA persuaded the Australian government to introduce a quota of 100 Pakistani Christians a year on their sponsored asylum programme (click here). We are now seeing the blessing of that work as those quotas are being filled. In March two other families also left Thailand for Australia including the families of Charles Bhatti and Amjad Saleem. We wish them all well.
Moreover, the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board are still using reports sent to them by our group, to assess Pak-Christians, after our efforts induced Special Immigration status for the diaspora. Read more (here).
Pakistani families are usually large in size the economic pressures they face are exacerbated by the minimal help offered by the Bangkok UNHCR. Constant fear of arrest and the tiny salaries they earn through illegal work, has created severe mental health concerns. Most Pakistani Christians we have spoken with have expressed some level of depression though this is not a clinical assessment. When our officer (an asylum seeker himself) visits families, he shares prayers and spends time reading the Gospel with them. He is trained as a Pastor but this is not his profession. He is a great encourager and we have appreciated the wonderful work he is doing for the families we support. Please keep him and his family in your prayers.