By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BANGKOK (Worthy News) – There was mounting concern Thursday about the plight of six Pakistani Christian asylum seekers detained in Thailand, including an 11-year-old girl, well-informed Christians told Worthy News.
The British Asian Christian Association (BACA) said the girl’s mother seeks “help with the removal of her child from the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre.”
BACA, the Britain-based advocacy group supporting Pakistani Christians, said the girl and the other five believers were arrested as the “Royal Thai Police began their first national crackdown on illegal immigrants since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.”
It said they were detained during a police raid early Tuesday local time in an area on the outskirts of Bangkok, the capital.
“In the early morning hours, multiple military and police vehicles reared up and surrounded a condo where they knew asylum seekers were residing. Dozens of police, immigration officers, and army personnel then indiscriminately knocked on every door in the condo and undertook a three-hour search. During this immigration raid, the unfortunate six Christians lost their freedom.”
Four detainees were identified as Danish Masih, 44, his wife Zubaida, 42, and daughters Magdaline, 11, and Mariam, 18. The family had escaped persecution while living in the Pakistani city of Karachi, Christians said.
They “suddenly found themselves in police cuffs and detained in a caged vehicle. The family has been residing illegally in Bangkok since 2015, where they sought refuge in a western nation,” BACA confirmed.
“They are disappointed Thailand has not signed the United Nations Covenant for Asylum,” which provides protections, BACA said. “Danish Masih had been working illegally in Pakistan while they awaited a decision by the [United Nations refugee agency] UNHCR or countries that offer sponsored asylum, a process that can take many years.”
Police also detained Nadeem Gill and Sam Afzal, according to BACA investigators. Gill fled Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, for Bangkok with his wife and two children in 2014. They were accused of blasphemy against Islam, an allegation that can lead to death in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
“He was the only family member at home at the time of the arrests in Bangkok, and his dependents are currently without their patriarch,” BACA said. The sixth detained Christian was identified as Sam Afzal, who moved to Bangkok in 2013 after apparently facing persecution for his faith in Pakistan.
BACA said it was concerned that the detained impoverished Christians would be fined for overstaying their visa. “Failing to pay the fine will result in one-month incarceration at Bangkok Central Jail. Their families will be split by gender, men will sleep naked, and these families will be kept with the toughest criminals, including rapists and murderers.”
Paying the fine prevents the one month in Central Jail, but detainees will still be sent to the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre, “where over 200 will be crammed into cells designed for 40 people,” BACA explained.
BACA said it is raising funds for the Christians to pay their fine and be released on bail in Pakistan to avoid more hardships.
Medical treatment is limited, and several Christians have died while being detained, according to BACA and other sources. There is “no educational provision for minors, diseases spread and access to sunlight is near zero. Yet some Pakistani Christians choose to stay in detention for many years until their asylum is finally agreed through sponsorship or after UNHCR finally gets them through their backlog,” BACA stressed.
More Pakistani Christians could be detained in the coming days, the group suggested. “On December 1, the Royal Thai Immigration Police opened a series of coordinated raids to arrest travel visas overstayers in the country. The raids were announced earlier and are to be for ten days from 1st December – 10th December.”
There are roughly 5000 asylum seekers in Thailand, many of them Christians, according to U.N. estimates, though aid workers believe the actual figure is higher.
Pakistani Christians told Worthy News they rather endure beatings in Thailand and wait for years than face potential torture or even death in Pakistan.
BACA has condemned the apparent reluctance of British authorities to recognize the severe persecution of Christians in Pakistan.
It claimed that the assessment contributed to a UNHCR refusal to allow asylum in Thailand to two Christian brothers who were deported and detained for alleged blasphemy against Islam on their return.
In June, a Pakistani high court upheld the death sentence of Qaiser Ayub and Amoon Ayub.
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