Pak-Christians are fearing the new year celebrations in Thailand named Songkran, an internationally known water festival.
Fears are based on the pickpocketing, water damage to phones and arrests of asylum-seekers and refugees in Thailand, who are all deemed illegal in a country that has not ratified UN Conventions on asylum.
The same Christians are pining for a return of Easter and Christmas worship services. BACA have not been holding them for the last two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the annual asylum crackdown held in December.
Thousands of Pak-Christians living in Bangkok, a country they have fled to in order to escape persecution, have complained about their safety during the infamous Songkran celebrations from April 13 – April 15th 2023. The festival is celebrated across Thailand and involves throwing and rubbing flour on others in addition to soaking them in water. The celebration has been banned for three years due to the threat of COVID-19 but this year is being predicted as the largest event ever.
Participants carry vessels of water, water guns and canons and even local firemen participate by shooting water from their water hoses as people passing by.
The event has caused distress amongst Pakistani Christians, with many of them complaining about having their purses, wallets and phones stolen in muggings or by pickpockets, or the phones damaged by the water. women have complained about being groped during the celebrations and others fear being caught by the extra police on the streets who patrol the streets to prevent the aforementioned crimes. There have also been incidents where the Bangkok Pak-Christian disapora have become ill from the water they have bene drenched in, including colds, flu, pneumonia and stomach problems.
Though they would like to avoid going out on these days they rely on daily wages in blackmarket employment, so inevitably find themselves having to endure the terror-inducing celebration.
There are several thousand Pak-Christian asylum seekers in Thailand all of whom are treated as illegal immigrants, even though a large percentage have either UNHCR registration as an official asylum seeker or refugee.
Illegal status forces them to work cash in hand jobs for a pittance under extremely difficult and unsafe circumstances.
They are prone to arrest and have to go through a very difficult and embarrassing court process to pay overstay fines, to allow them to go direct to the unhealthy and unsanitary conditions of the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), or face a month in central jail
On 3rd March, British Asian Christian Association provided 10 welfare grants to help 11 beleaguered Pak-Christian families in Thailand. Each family received 1000 baht the equivalent of £25. A monetary grant we provide every month. The following individuals received our grants on behalf of their families.
Sheeba Yousaf (40 yrs)
Victor Rehmat (50 yrs)
Amir Shehzad (37 yrs)
Javed John (50 yrs)
Safira Suleman (35 yrs)
Danish Daniel (50 yrs)
Parveen Barket (55 yrs)
Urooj Siraj (35 yrs)
Amir Vincent (50 yrs)
Roger James (31 yrs)
Shaheen Azhar (45 yrs)
The donation helps supported families pay for rent, to buy food or to purchase other necessary items, Our grants help families survive through the economic difficulties faced by asylum-seeker and refugees who are illegal in Bangkok.
While talking to families about their hopes for Easter, many have asked for a return of the worship services we held at Christmas and Easter, which had stalled due to a series of arrests of refugees and asylum-seekers and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parveen Barkat, said:
“Worshiping God in one’s own language allows us to get more personal with God.
“Urdu Church services help us understand what is being preached, many of our women will not understand English and very few understand Thai.
“Most of our children in Thailand do not go to school, they too have a minimal understanding of the language.
“So having our own services especially during Christian festival’s is very uplifting – we inevitably see revival.”
Our lead officer in Thailand would like to organise an Easter services but to hire a room, provide food for all participants, gifts for all the attending children and to maintain our regular distribution of aid. To make this happen we need to raise £500. You can donate towards this (here).
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic created a lot of stress for Pak-Christian asylum-seekers in Thailand.
“Loss of work caused more enhanced abject poverty.
“Some were near starvation and we provided increased levels of food support during that period.
“Even then the thing Christians missed most was the worship of their God in their mother tongue.
“Our community continues to hold strong in their beliefs and put their trust in Jesus.
“Christ remains the pivot for their lives and we hope to help them celebrate his resurrection.”
The Royal Thai Governments refusal to ratify international conventions for asylum seekers creates huge distress for those seeking escape from persecution. Moreover the Thai Government is adamant that they will not allow refugees and asylum seekers to take comfort in their country. Regular arrests, a fine system and brutal conditions in their Immigration Detention Centres (IDC) have been created to make life as tough as possible for those seeking safety and refuge within their borders.
As you can imagine many of these families struggle to make ends meet and every single family there is reliant on hand outs and charity. Most of theses asylum seekers are from middle-class or wealthy backgrounds [the BBC report below suggests some where doctors, teachers and had other good employment] and have lost everything when fleeing a blasphemy allegation or rape and forced marriage. If you would like to help us with our grant programme you can donate (here).
British Asian Christian Association, helped the BBC film a secret documentary at the Bangkok IDC when one of our team travelled secretly travelled to Bangkok with a BBC film crew (click here), risking arrest to shed light on the situation faced by the asylum diaspora there. This link (here) is a report that we helped BBC’s Chris Rogers write which also contains a short video of one of our schools for asylum seekers. You can watch the full documentary here:
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. We helped the family of Qaiser Masih find asylum in Australia, his family were directly impacted by the attack on Gojra in 2009, that led to the creation of our charity (click here).
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 2021 two other families also left Thailand for Australia and Canada including the families of Charles Bhatti (click here) and Javaid Sadiq (click here). We wish them all well.
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.