When most people think of Thailand, they imagine an exotic and luxurious holiday destination, but little is known about the harsh reality of the lives of the Pakistani Christian asylum seekers, who are being treated like criminals in Thailand’s capital Bangkok.
Many of these Pakistani Christians moved to Thailand for a better life after experiencing harsh treatment in their homeland of Pakistan. But upon arrival many of these individuals and families are arrested and locked up in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre and left to survive in squalid conditions.
16 year old Zaresh Gill is one of the four thousand Pakistani Christians in Thailand. Her family fled Pakistan, because they lived in constant fear for their lives; she shares her experiences of adjusting to her new life, “I miss my friends, I miss them a lot, especially my best friends, they play, they laugh, they share their feelings. I actually miss that, I miss those moments. Here I have made friends and they are so heart touching friends, they care a lot, they remind me of my previous friends. But still I miss my friends, our families, our traditions, our giggling and mischiefs and many other things.”
Speaking to Pukaar News in Thailand, Munir Bashir, a Christian who left his homeland in Pakistan for a better life in Bangkok shared, “The conditions were horrific, cramped, dark and hot.” He spent seven months in the Immigration Detention Centre, known as the IDC with his wife and two children.
“My IDC experience is so bad, when I see my children, I can’t explain this because they are in prison and they have nothing. We spent seven months in IDC, but still my daughter had to face some problems. Flu, cough and she still have skin problem.”
In Pakistan, Christians are despised by extremists and minorities there are targeted by Muslims because of their faith. These individuals are left without a voice to speak out and seek help.
A local Thai church plays an important role in the lives of the asylum seekers, who find little peace by visiting the church to pray and support each other.
Farrukh Harrison Saif, a Businessman who runs an organisation to support asylum seekers in Thailand, has already helped a number of Pakistani Christians, who have been arrested by providing them with food and essential items. He believes more needs to be done by the authorities,
“The international community has to put pressure on Thai government, not to arrest the asylum seekers, because asylum is not a crime. It is a right of any individual or a family or group.”
Vivian Tan, spokesperson from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shared,
“What the United Nation tries to do is to try and give asylum seekers and refuges certificates or documents to say that these are people of concern to the UNHCR, they should not be arrested or detained.
The UNHCR has tried to speed up registration, so at least people will have asylum seekers certificates in their hands so they can show it to the police, if they are ever stopped on the streets.
It means that there is now a long waiting time for the next step, which is to interview and determine if someone is a refuge, there is a danger that if it is speeded up too much, the whole process, the integrity could be compromised.”
Having to live in constant fear is daily practice for many of these Pakistani Christians, who live an uncertain future, but dream to live in freedom.