Pakistani Christians seeking asylum in Thailand were arrested earlier this month in spite of having registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and carrying identity cards.
At least 45 refugees, including women, children, elderly and people with serious medical conditions, were detained on 10 December. The crackdown on refugees was filmed by a TV crew who accompanied police and immigration officers.
Revealing the condition of those arrested, an asylum seeker Maqsod Iqbal who escaped the crackdown gave the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) details of the detentions. He said the refugees were attempting to escape persecution in Pakistan.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said he had contacted the Foreign Office in Thailand hoping to meet a senior officer from the Thai immigration Bureau to appeal for fairer treatment for asylum seekers in the country. He also said that court fines were being paid for many of the beleaguered asylum seekers our of funds raised by charities in the region and the BPCA.
Mr Chowdhry said, “We are providing what little help we can to an obviously terrified Pakistani Christian asylum seeker community that are being aggressively targeted in Thailand . However, the little assistance we have provided is making little impression on the morale of victims who are quite rightly terrified for their future.
“Pak-Christians in Thailand are finding themselves in an extremely difficult position where they are threatened with lifelong imprisonment in Thailand, a nation in which they mistakenly sought safe haven. However, the alternative is potential death in their homeland of Pakistan where increasingly radicalized communities want them eradicated.
“The fear of death has led hundreds of Christians to endure lengthy stays in the brutal Immigration Detention Centres (IDC) of Bangkok. These further arrests mean these IDCs are filled over capacity worsening an already bad situation where people are forced to sleep laying over one another, crouching, or in some cases standing up. The spread of disease and infection, coupled with poor medical care has led to numerous detainee deaths already.
He claimed that the Thai government was choosing to make life difficult for refugees. “The indigenous churches have a similar culture forgetting God’s command to protect the oppressed. Thai churches will introduce asylum seekers to English speaking churches as they know ‘western’ churches will provide help – a sad malaise within the Thai church body,” he added.