By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent
2/23/2015 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Throughout the country of Pakistan, discrimination against religious minorities is abundantly clear, especially during times of disaster. When tragedy strikes, such as war or natural disaster, the Pakistani government has demonstrated that Christians and other religious minorities are the last to receive any form of aid, if they receive any at all.
Christian Communities Washed Away by Pakistan’s Annual Floods
In the case of natural disasters, high-scale monsoon rains and floods during the first week of September 2014 reportedly affected an overall population of 2.53 million in Pakistan. According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), this flooding resulted in 364 deaths and 652 injured.
Aside from the personal injuries that the flooding caused, there was also extensive financial damage as homes and property were destroyed across the country. The official NDMA report states that, “Four thousand, sixty-five villages, 2.41 acres of crops, and 107,102 houses were damaged, and 9,722 cattle head perished in the flood hit areas.”
ICC’s Pakistan representative had the opportunity to visit the flood-affected areas in Rawalpindi on September 26, 2014. Furthermore, ICC paid solidarity visits to the victims in Sharoon Colony and its neighborhoods, aiming to collect firsthand information on their post-flood living conditions.
According to ICC’s findings, floods hit 112 Christian homes in the town which resulted minor damages to 108 houses. Four houses belonging to Christian families received extensive damages, including one house that completely collapsed and was washed away from its original foundation.
One of the owners of the four severely damaged homes is Yaqoob Masih. Talking with ICC, Masih, 65, criticized government authorities for their negligent, hate-based policies, and biased attitude towards the religious minorities in the region. Sharing the painful stories of the post-flood situation with ICC, Masih said, “Floods completely damaged my house, two motorbikes, furniture, electrical appliances, all the educational stuff and toys of my children and the entire household and valuables.”
“The officials left the affected Christians alone at this difficult time… The rescue teams did not facilitate us; they focused on rescuing their ‘co-faith’ people and their stuff,” Masih added.
“We are living a miserable life, we are homeless, our families have scattered, we are with shortage of health facilities and all the necessities of life,” Masih urged the authorities and international community to extend immediate support to rebuild his house.
Pointing her finger to a spot on the ground, Mrs. Austin, a 45-year-old mother of two children, began to cry. Though it was difficult for her to express her thoughts, she said, “Here, I had my house – a result of my family’s hard-work and outcome of our dreams.” She shook her head and started crying again and said, “Now it is just like a grave.”
Mr. Austin also criticized the local government and management for blatantly showing preference to Muslims above Christians when distributing assistance. Speaking with ICC, Mr. Austin continued, “Despite several times requests to build a boundary wall around the residential area, the officials did not listen to us. They ignored the poor Christians and put us into a danger.”
Highlighting the discriminatory behavior of the management, Mr. Riaz Masih, another victim of the post-flood discrimination said, “The Christians of Sharoon Colony were not given support for rescuing people nor the relief services by the authorities; that is why we have lost our houses and faced heavy losses.”
While speaking with ICC, Mr. Khurram Daud Gill, a social activist in Pakistan said, “We witness that Christian flood victims have been treated as untouchables by the government. The rescue, relief and then rehabilitation work was done unfairly. The district government did not provide adequate machines or cranes to lift the mud from the streets and heavy debris of ruined buildings. None of the high scale government officials visited the victims.”
Internally Displaced Pakistani Christians Face Struggle to Survive
Similarly to natural disasters, tragedy caused by man affects Christians and non-Christians alike. However, after ICC’s visit to displaced Christians in Pakistan, it was evident that the aid distributed after disaster strikes is again, not distributed evenly.
“Operation Zarb-e-Azb,” a military intervention against various militant groups, including Tehrik-e-Taliban, is being conducted in different parts of North Waziristan, a part of Federally Administrated Tribal Areas. The operation was launched by the Pakistan Armed Forces on June 15th, 2014 and received widespread support from the Pakistani political, defense and civilian sectors.
The operations caused large-scale displacements to neighboring districts including Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Karak, Dera Ismail Khan and Kohat in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. According to media reports, FATA Disaster Management Authority claimed registering over 455,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) which it equated to 36,700 displaced families.
The government announced that they would be providing cash grants to the IDPs as they register, in addition to assistance, food packages and health items that are being provided by humanitarian organizations. However, the transparency and regularity of this government support has not been seen.
ICC’s Representative to Pakistan visited Christian IDPs in September 2014 and learned that they were experiencing multiple forms of discrimination during this difficult time. While speaking with ICC, Mr. Khalid Iqbal, Tariq Masih and Ms. Jameela, social activists among the IDPs, shared the issues and discriminatory behaviors they were experiencing because of their Christian faith.
According to Iqbal, one of the ways that Christians face persecution for their faith is through the denial of their monthly stipends. He said, “The government promised monthly stipend[s] to each affected family; however, they have not included Christians in the so-called registration list, which resulted [in] financial crisis for us.”
In addition to the financial pressure that these Christian families are now facing, many face the added stress of being separated from their families entirely. ICC learned that due to unavailability of residences, many families have been forced to live separately. All the women of these families are accommodated in the covered areas with 10 to 15 women per room, while the men are forced stay in open-air tents.
During ICC’s visit, a common theme among Christian IDPs was the lack of adequate living conditions because of discriminatory government policy. According to Tariq Masih, “The government’s teams are delivering food packages to the Muslims’ camps regularly; however, they have ignored the Christians. [A] few months back, Christians protested for their rights, and we were able to get few food packages; however, the stuff of those food items were useless and expired.”
Nearly all the residents of the camp raised voices against the lack of adequate lavatories. An elderly woman informed ICC that there are only two lavatories (male and female) for approximately 80 people in a block. “We tabled a demand for temporary facilities for lavatories; however, it was rejected stating ‘We can’t provide you such facility in a church compound,’” according to Masih.
Ms. Jameela, a teacher by profession, was extremely disappointed that there were no proper arrangements for education. She expressed grief over spoiling children’s future and abilities, especially that of the grade nine and ten students preparing to graduate from Pakistan’s equivalent of high school. She urged the authorities to give education first priority in their policies and provide adequate facilities to the Christian students in IDP’s camps.
As these two instances clearly exemplify, Christians are discriminated against when aid is being distributed by the Pakistani government following any disaster. The clear discrimination shows that Christians continue to be an unwanted minority in Pakistan.
In response, ICC has provided vital aid to Christian flood victims following the annual monsoon and is hoping to be able to extend aid to the Christian IDPs. ICC’s donors are encouraged to help support these efforts by giving to ICC’s Community Rebuild Fund. With ICC support, Christians no longer have to be left behind every time disaster strikes in Pakistan.