What do you do when your home is no longer yours? How does one describe that feeling of being robbed of a sense of belonging, an anchor that gives you stability? These are the unsettling questions those in forced exile face. Such is the predicament of Pakistani asylum seekers in Thailand. The majority that flees that country belong to religious minority groups and face persecution within Pakistan. The quagmire is exacerbated particularly in South East Asia where a few countries have signed the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention that concerns itself with the legal status of asylum seekers. Hence, Pakistani refugees are termed as illegal immigrants and treated – under much abuse – as such. Survival is barely possible as refugees are compelled to pay hefty amounts of money to support themselves while the UNHCR follows up their cases and finally accept them as refugees. This takes at least three to four months.
In a recent report in this newspaper, Christian asylum seekers from Pakistan narrated their heartbreaking experiences of escaping a hostile homeland only to be unwillingly accepted a foreign country. Many must bribe police officials in Thailand to avoid detention centers where a plethora of abuses occur unaccounted for. Police raids are regular and thus, refugees are forced to flee their temporary residences and move to other areas by paying yet another large amount of security deposit. Although international human rights standards prohibit arbitrary, indefinite and non-reviewable detention, the life of the average Pakistani refugee in Thailand and other countries in the region is completely uncertain. One day you’re here and the other, you’re gone.
It is a damning shame because it is preventable. With the right amount of intervening by governmental institutions, minorities can be protected against bigotry. It brings us back to our own notions of ‘pure’ identity. We treat minorities with disdain and allow our ethnic, religious and social differences to reinforce violent xenophobia and mob mentality. Christian as well as non-Christian welfare organizations must look into the plight of asylum seekers not only in Thailand but else where. Furthermore, we must remain mindful of the harrowing fact that it is not just Christians but other religious minorities that remain receptacles of vicious majoritarian violence. Until the State owns up to its own negligence and occasional complicity in marginalizing a terribly disenfranchised people, affairs will remain the same and lives will continue suffering.