Wilson Chowdhry and MP Andrew Hastie
Last week Wilson Chowdhry and the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) had an extremely successful week in Australia and we wish to praise all the efforts of those who supported our work. Special thanks are to be reserved for Martin Isles leader of the Australian Christian Lobby who facilitated most of our meetings.
The two greatest fruits of our efforts, extrapolated upon below, were the fact Australia offered Asia Bibi asylum if other existing offers fell through and Tony Pasin MP offered to make a Parliamentary speech about BPCA’s incredible work and call on Cricket Australia to boycott playing cricket with Pakistan, subject to it cleaning up its abominable human rights record.
Chairman Wilson Chowdhry with MP Tony Pasin
By way of background, BPCA received correspondence on 12 November wherein Asia Bibi, her family and her associates were refused immediate asylum and were told in an abhorrently administrative letter to essentially, “queue up,” citing alleged pressures on Australia’s offshore resettlement program. In light of the Bourke Street terror attacks in Melbourne the preceding week, we believed Australia’s initial refusal of asylum was more about capitulation to extremists and fear of reprisal attacks than any real pressure on the offshore program. On the same day BPCA published an article on our blog site condemning this reprehensible administrative letter and we also admonished the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) for not conferring “refugee status” on Asia pursuant to the Refugee Convention 1951 despite how abundantly clear it is that Asia languishes in a precarious situation.
In the interim, BPCA relentlessly continued to petition Australia and many other governments to grant asylum to Asia. It would be utterly abysmal and shameful that Asia’s cries for help would fall on deaf ears in comparison to the expediently offered asylum given by most western nations when Malala Yousafzai was in need. This would be an incredulous situation!
Without a change of heart from Australia it would appear evident that the West now capitulates to extremists. There was no other sound reason for denying asylum to such a vulnerable individual. BPCA asserts that any action that demonstrates capitulation must stop now.
On 14 November, BPCA received a “watered down” letter from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) wherein it was stated that Australia was now working with “likeminded” allies to resolve the Asia Bibi crisis. This more benevolent letter signalled a shift in temperament and is elucidatory of the power of the media and grassroots campaigning.
After receiving this correspondence, BPCA continued to virulently petition the Australian government and on the 24th of November BPCA held a rally commencing at the NSW Parliament House in Sydney calling on Australia to offer Asia Bibi asylum. BPCA Chairman, Wilson Chowdhry, and the Australian Conservative’s Candidate for the Senate, Sophie York, both gave compelling speeches elucidating the plight of Asia Bibi and other persecuted Christians in Pakistan.
At the end of the rally BPCA received a text confirming that Australia had changed its mind and would welcome Asia Bibi with open arms if the other democratic countries expected to offer asylum failed to do so. This was a huge success for Asia, BPCA and all our supporters. We were subsequently scheduled to meet with the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, but he was off from work due to a sports injury so instead we met with his Chief of Staff who affirmed that Australia’s offer of asylum was indeed genuine.
BPCA continued to have many successful and fruitful meetings with various senators and MPs in Canberra. The aim of these meetings was firstly to ensure that diplomatic processes regarding Asia Bibi were resolved expediently and also to sow the seeds for our other positive initiatives.
These initiatives include, inter alia, the establishment of a registered charity in Australia with Australian Partnership Approval (APO) pursuant to the Refugee Community Sponsorship Program (we are currently in talks with the Office for Home Affairs about a bespoke APO application), reviewing the risk analysis tool used for assessing persecuted Christians and minorities in Pakistan seeking asylum in Australia, improving visitation rights for families of adult refugees, revoking Australia’s aid program to Pakistan subject to the adoption of proper transparency and traceability mechanisms and encouraging Cricket Australia to boycott playing cricket with Pakistan until it cleans up it’s dismal human rights record.
Tony Pasin MP made a very generous offer to give a Parliamentary speech about BPCA and our efforts and to call on Cricket Australia to cease playing cricket with Pakistan until it remediates its human rights record. In his view sporting is about engaging with people who have shared values and mutual respect and therein Australia should not be playing cricket with a country who has hitherto not demonstrated a strong commitment to improving human rights.
BPCA also met with Senator Amanda Stoker and she is very keen to have Christian persecution in Pakistan appropriately recognised. She intends to identify the current “Country Guidance” schema used to assess Pakistani Christian asylum seekers and help us remedy it to reflect the true reality experienced by persecuted minorities in Pakistan.
Our genocide expert, Desmond Fernandes, can compose a report for Australia which can facilitate amendments to the current guidelines. BPCA believes that this would ensure a fairer assessment process for those seeking safe haven in Australia from horrendous situations.
Wilson Chowdhry with Senator Amanda Stoker
BPCA also had a very fruitful meeting with Andrew Hastie MP who suggested establishing a cross-party “friendship group” comprised of “friendly” senators and MPs from all parties who are supportive of our cause. We believe this bipartisan group would be very meaningful and could compel positive change in this space.
We met with Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells who is a flag-bearer for this cause and will continue to passionately advocate for persecuted Christians and other minorities. She also agreed to help with the efforts of the BPCA.
Martin Isles (Australian Christian Lobby), Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Wilson Chowdhry
BPCA continued to meet with numerous other senators and MPs who were very supportive and encouraging of our vision. We met with Senator Jonathon Duniam who has avidly supported Asia and other persecuted Christians.
Former Deputy PM Hon John Andersen (now Head of Overseas Council of Australia) and Wilson Chowdhry
We also had a successful meeting with the Hon Andrew Broad MP (Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) who is an avid voice for persecuted minorities and was also a virulent advocate for Asia.
Senator Johnathan Duniam, Wilson Chowdhry.
Finally, we had an encouraging meeting with Chris Crewther MP who strongly supports our vision and wants to see genuine refugees find safe asylum in Australia and the West.
Wilson Chowdhry with the Hon Andrew Broad MP, Assistant to the Deputy PM
Overall BPCA were invigorated by our time in Australia. Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, issued the following statement:
“BPCA are very buoyed and overwhelmed at our success in Australia. Not only did we achieve our chief aim of acquiring an offer of asylum for Asia in Australia, we were also able to gain traction on many of the other meaningful objectives we have in mind.
“We wish to thank all the senators and MPs who have stood by BPCA, stood by Asia and wish to work with us to ensure an end to the persecution of minorities in Pakistan. We also wish to thank the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) for their tenacious and avid efforts in supporting our cause. ACL have been incredibly supportive and helpful and we extend a warm thank you to them.
“All eyes must be on Pakistan to ensure that it heads in a positive trajectory and that it’s government stops capitulating to extremists. The west must unequivocally continue to place pressure on Pakistan to remedy its human rights record and to ensure the safe passage of Asia, her family and associates to their final destination.
“We are very proud of the Australian government for its efforts in offering asylum to Asia and we hope that this establishes a precedent moving forward and that Australia will continue to work with us for meaningful change.”
Kashmala Munawar from BPC (Australia), issued the following statement:
“This week made me proud to be an Australian. My heart was filled with warmth when after all our hard efforts we received news and confirmation that Asia Bibi was welcome in Australia. Now Australia stands as one among other countries ready to help should they be called upon. It illustrates for me that grassroots campaigning and use of the media can compel governments to listen to us.
“We must continue to fight for persecuted people. Asia Bibi is not the only persecuted person and we must continue to place pressure on governments to properly recognise the avid and rampant persecution of minorities that is happening in Pakistan. We cannot turn a blind eye to the oppression that is occurring before our eyes – I fear if we do that then we are on the oppressor’s side. We cannot be complicit in the persecution and repression of already voiceless people.
“I want to be on the right side of history in heralding in a new era where genuine refugees are granted asylum, where there is no more capitulation to extremism and where those who threaten to undermine the liberties we treasure most – freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion – are held to account. We must adopt a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to extremism.”
BPC (Australia) hope to continue to work with the Australian government to ensure meaningful change in this space. Overall Australia was a success – let’s work together to keep up the work of improving human rights and raising the concerns of religious minorities in Pakistan.
British Pakistani Christian Association, continues to provide advocacy and humanitarian aid to Christians in Pakistan and the Pak-Christian diaspora. We cannot do it without your help please donate by clicking (here)