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UNHCR failing persecuted Christian refugees in Bangkok

Despite documentary evidence of persecution, growing numbers of Christians are having claims rejected reporter, Hong Kong reporter, Hong Kong

Updated: August 10, 2018 07:50 AM GMT
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UNHCR failing persecuted Christian refugees in Bangkok

A file image of Pakistani refugees arrives at temporary accommodation after being released on bail in Bangkok in this file photo. Christian Pakistani refugee applicants say the UNHCR uses Muslim interpreters who are biased against them. (Photo by Nicolas ASFOURI/AFP)

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Published Aug. 15, 2017 

The assessment by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees office of claims by Pakistani Christians in Bangkok is routinely failing to accept evidence for their flight from their homeland as justification for their receiving refugee status, according refugee support workers in Bangkok.

The ability to safely return refugees to the country of origin is a key consideration in assessing the eligibility of claimants to refugee status. Compounding the situation further, the UNHCR assessments assert that the asylum seekers can be returned to their homes at no risk when documentary evidence presented by them clearly proves the opposite, they add.

Catholics, Protestant and Muslim Pakistanis have fled to Bangkok in their thousands to escape the consequences of violent persecution, systematic discrimination and the harsh blasphemy laws in force in Pakistan. The so-called blasphemy laws were introduced in 1987 and licensed the execution of anyone accused of profaning Prophet Mohammed's name.

Many asylum seekers have had their status confirmed by the UNHCR, including Ahmadi and Shia Muslims who are persecuted by the Sunni majority in Pakistan.

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But a growing number of Christians have provided documentary evidence of their persecution and have had their claims rejected by the U.N. agency and told their "case is closed."

"I provided the actual fatwa condemning me to death to the UNHCR," said Iqbal (a false name used to protect his identity). "I gave them copies of my formal complaint to the police in Pakistan and the registration of the complaint signed by the police officer," he said.

A key problem that is increasingly plaguing both these refugee claims and those elsewhere is the issue of language.

"The UNHCR interviewer could not speak or read Urdu and my English is weak and I am far from fluent in speaking or writing it. I do not have the money to get a certified translation done," he said.  

"So, it was said my evidence of victimization under the blasphemy laws was weak and there was no evidence of any complaint to the police. Yet I presented both but still had my claim for refugee status denied by the UNHCR."

Bangkok-based Pakistani Christians also report that their claims for refugee status are being assessed via biased interpreters with no regard to the documentary evidence they present in support of their applications.

The Christians complain that the UNHCR are using Muslim interpreters, whose accounts of evidence in English are accepted by UNHCR officers. But the asylum seekers had no way of telling whether the translation is complete and accurate until the assessment returns from the UNHCR showing that what the refugees have said has not been told to the UNHCR officers.

A number of Bangkok based Pakistani asylum seekers told that there is bias against them because their claims are rejected despite the enduring force of actions in Pakistan — fatwas — evidence of which was produced in the original Urdu. The existence of this evidence and its enduring effect was presented but apparently not understood by UNHCR officers.

While Christians are rejected, Ahmadi Muslims routinely get refugee status.

"How is that in one week, five Ahmadi families get refugee status and are off to Canada and six Christian families get denied refugee status?" one Pakistani asylum seeker, who helps displaced countrymen, told

Another Pakistani Christian family was denied refugee status even though evidence confirming the circumstances of the attempts on their lives and the continuing nature of the threat to them is freely available in media reports in Pakistani newspapers still found on the internet.

This family was shot at several times for its part in a political movement protesting against the persecution of Christians yet was told by the UNHCR that their refugee claim was "incredible" despite this being documented. The circumstances of the attacks formed part of the "persecution account" tendered as the basis for a claim for refugee status to the UNHCR.

This "incredible" judgment was made by the UNHCR despite the fact that the target of this attack had been in an identical position in the movement his predecessor had — and he had been granted refugee status on arrival in Canada.

Meanwhile, these and dozens of Christian families remain marooned in Bangkok during the lengthy UNHCR process that has been taking between three to five years. In this time, they are forbidden to work, housed in cramped conditions and unable to return home.

The UNHCR has no review process and so its officers are effectively unaccountable for their decisions. There is no provision for an external body, an ombudsman or a transparent process to assess the fairness of decisions made in local areas.

Attempts to appeal against UNHCR decisions to its headquarters in Geneva have failed, despite errors of fact, lack of due process and the neglect of the refugees' natural rights with such applications being sent straight back to Bangkok where all the problems began.

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