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Catholic News Service

CNS (12/1/05) – Hundreds of Christian families in Pakistan are being kicked out of their homes to make way for Muslims left destitute by the Kashmir earthquake, a Catholic bishop said.

Bishop Anthony Lobo of Islamabad-Rawalpindi , Pakistan , said the Pakistani government has evicted Christians to solve the problem of how to house some 3 million people left homeless by the disaster.

The Oct. 8 earthquake killed more than 73,000 people, but those left homeless continue to be threatened with death from exposure to single-digit winter temperatures.

Bishop Lobo told the British branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity, Nov. 29 that Christians in the neighboring Sind province, which was unaffected by the earthquake, might now also perish because they were being turned onto the streets without alternative accommodation provided for them.

He said that he knew of at least 40 families, or about 200 people, who had been evicted around Joharabad, near Karachi .

“All the people are being thrown out, all of them are Christians,” he said. “There is a lot of land which the government has at its disposal, but they (government officials) prefer to select a place that is already developed.

“Their mentality is like this: Why plant a sapling and wait for it to bear fruit when you can select another tree that is already bearing fruit?”

The bishop added: “We are the most vulnerable people, we are very poor and we are easy targets.”

Bishop Lobo said he feared that across the region the number of Christians evicted under the policy would run into thousands. He said he aimed to challenge the policy in the courts before the government started targeting other Christian communities.

“If we need to, we will try to get hold of a senior minister,” he added.

The forced evictions came amid claims that the 5 million-strong Christian minority in Pakistan is being persecuted.

In mid-November three churches in Sangla Hill, near Lahore , were destroyed by a mob of 3,000 people who also attacked two schools, a hostel and a convent after it was alleged that a Christian had burned pages of the Quran, the sacred book of Islam.

The incident prompted the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion who was touring Pakistan in late November, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury , England , to call for the repeal of the country’s blasphemy laws on the grounds that they were being misused against minorities.

The laws sanction the death penalty for defiling the Quran or insulting Mohammed, but Christians say they are being used against them in disputes over property.

More than $5 billion has been pledged by international donors to the relief operation in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.6 earthquake.

Much of the aid has come from Christians in the West, but Christians in Pakistan also joined the relief effort, channeling thousands of dollars into providing food, blankets, tents and medicine.

Pakistani bishops sent teams of volunteers to search for survivors and have paid for the construction of an orphanage.