UN’s 40th Session of the Human Rights Council Sees Petitions for Greater Acknowledgment of Christian Refugees
by Jordan Hilger, Worthy News Correspondent
(Worthy News) - The plight of Vietnam’s Montagnard Christians was highlighted at this month’s 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as a string of advocates attempts to spur UN action on Christian refugees in 2019.
On March 13th Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, President of Boat People SOS (BPSOS), presented his statement to the UN Special Rapporteur outlining the Vietnamese government’s denial of basic rights to the indigenous Montagnards.
“Without citizenship ID cards, these Hmong and Montagnard Christians cannot get employment, apply for a business license, open a bank account, or even use the public library,” said Thang in his statement about the predominantly Christian ethnic group, many of whom are often forced to seek refuge in neighboring Thailand.
The stateless condition of the Montagnards sheds light on the predicament in which Christian refugees in Southeast Asia often find themselves.
Montagnard asylum seekers frequently end up alongside Pakistan’s fleeing believers in Thailand’s Immigration Detention Center (IDC), whose notorious conditions are seen by some as a flashpoint for the UN’s ambivalence toward Christian asylum seekers in that part of the world.
In 2017 a sick Pakistani Christian man died after being holed up in the center for a year without being granted refugee status.
“His requests for treatment were constantly ignored by both the Thai authorities and UNHCR” in Bangkok, according to a report by the British Pakistani Christian organization, which later launched a petition requesting the Thai government to “stop persecuting asylum seekers.”
It is estimated that between 3,000 and 4,000 Pakistani Christians, and 500 Vietnamese Montagnard Christians, have arrived at the IDC in search of refuge, and sometimes face conditions worse than those they fled as well as profound difficulties acquiring refugee status from the UN.
Some suggest the gridlock in the process is a result of their being Christian.
“It clearly appears to us that the UNHCR in Bangkok has placed a higher burden of proof on Pakistani Christian asylum seekers,” said Ann Buwalda, director of Jubilee Campaign, in her testimony before congress last month, which noted the UN’s mysterious treatment of Pakistani believers in Thailand.
While the international organization seems to be more favorably disposed toward the Montagnards, for whom it has expressed some official concern, Pakistani believers sought greater acknowledgment from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) on the heels of Dr. Thang’s testimony when they protested at Palais Wilson in Geneva a few days ago.
Their protests grow out of circumstances similar to those of Burma’s Chin Christians, who were notified by the UN in November of last year that their refugee status would be inexplicably revoked on December 31st.
Despite the ongoing ethnic-cleansing perpetrated by Burma’s military, which made headlines last year when 700,000 Rohingya Muslims were displaced along with a considerable number of Christians from the Chin ethnic group, a representative for the UNHCR claimed that “the conditions that would normally produce refugees no longer exist” in the former British colony.
The 1951 Refugee convention stipulated that displaced peoples could not be returned to their home country if the conditions that caused them to flee persisted, and that any person not able to return home due to life-threatening circumstances would be defined as a refugee.
It remains to be seen whether these attempts to get the UN to give greater shrift to Christian refugees will be successful at this month’s 40th session of the Human Rights Council.