BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry recently visited Thailand to gain direct knowledge of the situation of Pakistani Christian refugees there. The BPCA had been aware it is very bad and being there confirmed that reality. He first went to an English speaking church in Bangkok led by Tim Eaddy, where he experienced a wonderful service in a vibrant, multi-racial church. He spoke to Tim Eaddy who reported that although a local group provided a little aid with rent arrears, as well as food, the need was still immense and the church is unable to cope. The Pakistani Christians under his care need assistance to get into long-term accommodation. He had been praying for Western nations to help, since such Christians are living right on the edge, affecting their morale and health. With the limited funds we had available BPCA helped a number of individuals, for instance we gave £100 to a lady so that her mother could have a heart operation. The daughter had just been praying for assistance and a few days later, BPCA were able to step in and provide for this need. Another family with a baby that Wilson met were down to their very last nappy and no money for more, or for their gas and electricity bills. We covered the costs for their gas bill and bought close to 6 months supply of nappies. We paid two months rent for another family and for two months of medication for epilepsy and diabetes. We also supplied food packages for several families.
Purchasing medicines for epilepsy and diabetes.
Because these Christians do not have refugee status, they are not allowed to work, and so have no legal income. They rely on handouts and sporadic illegal work. A lot of them have professional backgrounds – doctors, teachers, lawyers and the like. They go to Thailand because it is the cheapest and easiest country for which to get a tourist visa. Selling all their goods they survive until everything they once had has been lost and then they start to beg or seek help from charities.
Other asylum seekers who fail to get a visa travel by boat to Thailand, it costs them from between £10,000 to £20,000, and they usually raise such large funds by selling their houses and other properties, or through loans from family members. The UN says there are about 4000 Pakistani Christian refugees or asylum seekers in Thailand, but many believe the true figure is likely to be about 10,000 as many exist under the radar. Despite being professionals in many cases, what work they can get illegally earns them a pittance. For instance one man we saw was getting pennies fixing PCs, a job he earned good money doing when he was back in Pakistan. Later on the trip, Wilson also met a family where the daughter had to support the family by working in a bar where prostitutes work. Her parents are fearful for her life and what she might be subjected to in that job, but she has to feed her family.
Wilson went to an Urdu service in a church supported by local Thai businessman Papa Thongchai – ‘Urdu Church in the Hands of God’. He and his wife have sacrificed much of their business and lifestyle to help Pakistani Christians. He started to do so after he got offended because some other Thai churches refused Pakistani Christians entrance to worship because they said that the Pakistani brothers and sisters smelled and were unclean. The church is now sponsored by a local Christian businessman who helps them hire a hall, but as the congregation has grown to about 250, this is now too small. Because the entire congregation is poor and homeless, very little money comes from the collection. Papa Thongchai often gives the money himself, or from other local supporters. Wilson Chowdhry reports that when he was there, Pakistani Christians somehow managed to keep themselves clean despite the horrifically bad circumstances and maintain traditional colourful dress, but he reported experiencing open racism of a type he has not experienced in the UK since the 1980s. One of the additional problems is that these Christians survive on handouts, and have to go from church to church begging for the essentials to live, but the churches are getting fed up of this and don’t have the resources to keep giving – they just can’t cope. There is also racism against Pakistanis by taxi drivers, and he reported that one girl when asked for directions pulled a face and turned away, refusing to help.
Wilson was invited to speak at this church meeting, and because the need was so great, even though BPCA is ‘unfunded’, he agreed to provide ‘Country Expert Reports’ for asylum appeals for free, which in the West we would normally charge for, because Pak-Christians in Thailand simply can’t afford to pay. In many cases, asylum seekers have failed to get refugee status with the UN because they had not provided enough evidence of persecution and discrimination. In addition, just like BPCA’s experience in the UK, the UN regularly suggests the unrealistic alternative of internal relocation. Our reports will help to overcome this initial block to successful refugee status.
The next day, with the help of Papa Thongchai, Wilson went to see more families. Such families can often barely get food to feed their children, let alone medication (before BPCA went out there, we heard of a Pakistani Christian father who went into a clinic wanting to know if he could sell his kidney to raise funds to pay for medical care for his sick daughter). First he met a woman blind in one eye and also developing cataracts. The operation to save what sight she has would cost £400, and BPCA is seeking help to raise this money as we did not have it at the time, but we did pay off her rent arrears.
Wilson also learned more about the precarious situation of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand. The government is getting tired of the huge numbers of refugees, so there is an ongoing police crackdown on ‘illegal immigrants’ such as these Pakistani Christians. Thailand, as we reported in an earlier article, has not signed up to the UNHCR convention over refugees and Wilson saw the evidence of the police raids including kicked in doors. This has left the Christians absolutely terrified – they are even sometimes afraid to go out and buy food when they can afford it. They can’t afford to replace the locks, and, fearful of further raids, they get friends to padlock them in from the outside to give the appearance of being empty, but given the likelihood of fire in these rough, slum-like buildings, they run the grave danger of being trapped and burnt alive. In these waves of arrests over 400 Pakistani Christians were incarcerated. If they are taken to an Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) then, if these impoverished Christians can pay 50,000 baht, about £1000, they can go free and then have a two year pardon period during which they won’t be rearrested. The conditions in the IDC are horrific with 150 locked into rooms meant for 100 with just one toilet between them. They can only sleep either standing up, or crouching down. There are still 21 Pakistani Christians in IDC, with a cost of over £20,000 to get them all out. They are forced to wear orange uniforms, and their daily ration is a small amount of rice, and cucumber soup (boiled cucumber in plain water). Papa Thongchai reports that they go in relatively healthy and come out having visibly lost significant amounts of weight and looking malnourished. The stench is horrific and Wilson almost cried when he visited detainees. They are not allowed out unless they are invited out by visitors, so when Wilson and the others visited, the detainees were overjoyed, but their smiles hid the desperation behind them. This is a real humanitarian crisis, and although it was not much, due to our thin resources, each Pakistani Christian was given 100 baht and some food. Wilson said the pain was so great, he wondered which were better off, those who die on the journey, or those who made it here. Much focus has been put on the dangerous nature of the travel from countries with persecution by mainstream media – yet they have failed to grasp the horrors that face those who survive the journey.
Some who are arrested don’t go to the IDC, but are taken to the Central jail where they are locked in with hardened criminals – rapists, murderers and the like. The men are stripped naked, their heads are shaved and they are put in shackles that go around their feet and legs, and their arms and hands. The women are not allowed to wear underwear and are forced to jump around to show they have smuggled nothing in internally, men are often in the same room jeering and ogling. The prisoners are fined £4 a day for every day they overstay, and can be rearrested at any time, despite paying these fines. The children of these Pakistani Christian brothers and sisters are locked up with their parents in the Central jail. Those with babies struggle especially, since although nappies and milk are made available, these are only for Thai citizens, not for these innocent asylum seekers. Mothers watch their children suffer and starve, and have to use plastic bags as nappies, unless charities supply the need. In addition, the jailors in both the Central prison and the IDCs can be very brutal.
This whole situation leaves the Pakistani Christians not only terrified, but strongly aware of their diminutive status in Thailand. For instance, if a Christian Pakistani marries a Thai they won’t be granted citizenship. As soon as their spouse dies, they revert back to being a refugee. Even with refugee status legal employment is not permitted, forcing people to breach their refugee conditions by obtaining illegal work or leaving them to beg. Moreover, resettlement into countries that have adopted UN Conventions for Asylum can take up to ten years or more.
Raymond also took Wilson to see another community of 57 Christian families (we were originally told about 70) who, despite their bitter deprivations, were able to set up some form of community and actually help others. On that visit, Wilson saw six people all living in one room that was smaller than the average UK bedroom, with just one double bed and walls covered in damp and grime, and a hideous toilet. The daughters and mothers sleep on the bed, while the father and their six year old son, who has epilepsy and needs an operation costing £2000, sleep on the floor. Because they have not obtained refugee status, the UN won’t pay their medical fees. He also visited an extended family of 11 (with four adults) who also shared the floor and a bed in a small room, and some of them sometimes had to sleep on the outside roof to give privacy. Such cramped conditions in the Pakistani Christian community generally can result in stresses that result in domestic violence against Christian children, and if the children cry, then sometimes this is when the police arrive to arrest the parents, making an already horrific situation just so much worse.
This community is very well educated, and have pulled together and created a school with 150 kids (they also let the Pakistani Ahmahdi refugee and asylum seeker children attend for free). However, they operate under the terrible fear that the teachers may be arrested. They also need seats for the children and a photocopier for making copies of the curriculum. The school is currently in the roof space of a building, which means during the violently wet and windy monsoon season, the school cannot operate. They would really like to be able to hire rooms and they also need books. The BPCA is aiming to get them some iPads and pay for internet connections so they can access material from the Khan academy free on-line training for global deprived children.
The community also created a church in a roof space, where they take it in turns to preach and lead worship.
Additionally the community has a small medical supplies room about 2 metres by 2 metres which was originally supplied with medicines by Global Christian Voice who also helped with starting the school, but obviously it is not enough and stocks run low, and need replenishing.
Unfortunately, Wilson did not have time to go and talk to the local UNHCR as he had planned. However, we have started to connect with the need, which as you can see is desperate, and there are willing recipients able to make every penny count to not only better their own situation, but also to help others. We are working with a refugee with the pseudonym Christian Malik, who will be our new BPCA representative in Thailand, to help him and our brothers and sisters in Christ with medical costs, particularly for diabetes, as well as food and educational support.
Please help us to help our suffering brothers and sisters.
That Pak-Christians would be safe and find shelter in Thailand without fear of arrest or mistreatment
For their daily food and shelter and for medical needs to be met
That God would intervene and that Thai authorities would recognise Pakistani Christians asylum seekers
For education to be available to the children and the teachers to be safe from arrest
We aim to raise £10,000 to provide food, medicines, and clothing to reach as many of these victims as possible.
you feel led to help these suffering brothers and sisters in Thailand, then please use these bank details:
Sort Code: 20-67-90
Account number: 63468976
Ref: Love for brothers and sisters in Thailand
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