Persecution sees more Pakistani Christians seeking asylum abroad

Sarfraz Masih says he tried his best to help his jailed brother, Sajjad, after he fell foul of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.

Sep 17, 2015

KARACHI, Pakistan: Sarfraz Masih says he tried his best to help his jailed brother, Sajjad, after he fell foul of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.

Sajjad, from Pakpattan in Punjab province, was handed a life term in July 2013 for sending a blasphemous text message in 2011 to several Muslim clerics, a charge his brother strongly denies.

“All my efforts to prove his innocence have so far been in vain and I have become a target for fanatics,” said Sarfraz, a Christian.

“An appeal is now pending in the Lahore High Court. But it may take years for the hearing to begin,” he said.

“I have resisted four years of intimidation, including death threats, while pursuing my brother’s case vigorously. But I can’t take it anymore. Our family has decided to go to Sri Lanka and apply for asylum,” Sarfraz said.

Not swayed by negative reports of hardship befalling asylum seekers in Sri Lanka, Thailand and other countries, Sarfraz is prepared to take the gamble.

“We are well aware of the risks involved and pray to Jesus that things will be different for us in Sri Lanka,” he said.

Christian religious and political leaders say that some 30,000 people have applied for asylum or refugee status in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and other countries in recent years.

“Owing to poverty and lack of resources, some young girls are forced into prostitution to make a living. But they are still clinging to the hope that they will be granted refugee status by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees,” said Pastor Rafaqat Sadiq of The United Presbyterian Church of Pakistan.

Even Christian leaders leave Pakistan as a result of increasing persecution and threats, says Michael Javed, a Christian and former lawmaker.

Kashif A. Javed, a diocesan coordinator for the National Commission for Justice and Peace of Pakistan’s Bishops’ Conference, says the Church doesn’t support what he called this “hasty and risky” migration of Christians.

“We extend every possible legal and financial assistance to victims of persecution instead of sending them abroad,” he said.

There are many Christians willing to risk going abroad for a better life, however further difficulties such as financial hardship and official red tape often await them. Hundreds of asylum seekers are believed to have returned voluntarily, or are detained and deported back to Pakistan.

Upon reaching Thailand for example, Christians file an asylum application with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and then wait several years for interviews. After the interview, the U.N. decides whether applicants can qualify for asylum in another country or not.

Nadeem John, 38, left Karachi and went to Thailand in March last year with his wife and two children. John, who once owned a shop and earned a decent living, sacrificed all to reach Thailand, where things were far from easy.

His interview was set for 2019.

“For almost a year, I remained jobless and spent all the money I brought from Pakistan by selling my shop and other belongings. Eventually, we decided to return to Karachi and re-establish my business,” he said.

“It’s kind of a fresh start for me in Karachi as well.”

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