ICC NOTE: Thousands of Christians and Ahmadi Muslims flee Pakistan to escape hardships and the infamous blasphemy laws. Many find themselves traveling to Thailand hoping to use the nation as a way station to be resettled elsewhere in Southeast Asia. However, Thailand has never signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees placing any refugees or asylum seekers in Thailand on shaky ground. Many are given tourist visas, but these are temporary and once they expire renewal is difficult. As a result, they loose their basic human rights in many cases finding themselves arrested for overstayed visas or other questionable charges. Many have no hope of leaving to find news homes. Their only options are to live in Thailand without many of their basic rights or return to Pakistan and face the fear of violence and imprisonment.
3/2/2016 Thailand (Asia News) – For the past three years, “large numbers of Pakistanis have been arriving In Thailand, fleeing Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has deprived them of their land and assets,” said Fr Domenico Rodighiero, a missionary with the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and pastor at St Michael’s Catholic Church in Saphanmai, a northern suburb in Bangkok.
For over ten year, “our parish has helped refugees, and so we started to also take care of the latest arrivals.” The latter include Christian refugees, “some 4,000, both Protestant and Catholic. In addition, there is a large number of Ahmadi Muslims, who are also persecuted in Pakistan.”
Most refugees fled to Thailand hoping for resettlement in other South-East Asian countries; however, once in the country, they find themselves at a dead end, since Thailand does not recognise them any rights, without the opportunity of leaving, except back to Pakistan.
“When people arrive, they get a tourist visa at the airport for a month, or 20 days,” Fr Rodighiero said. “In some cases, they are renewed, but only rarely because it is expensive and complicated.”
“Thailand, and this is the most important thing, has not signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. Thus, those who overstay their visa are not protected and can be locked up in detention centres or deported. This happens to both asylum seekers and (bona fide) refugees.”
A year and a half ago, the parish of St Michael started to collect necessities for the thousands of refugees, later followed by the whole diocese.
“We started with essential things like food,” said the missionary. “We deal with everyone, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims. Muslims are ashamed sometimes because they realise that Christians emigrated because of Pakistani Muslims.”
“All the refugees are divided into groups in some areas of Bangkok, and live in rented rooms with families,” Fr Rodighiero explained. “I visit their homes and celebrate Mass for the Christians. Then I go to the detention centre where illegal immigrants or those with expired visa are held.”
“Except for a few cases, the police does not go after these people, because they know where they are and can monitor them,” he explained. “Lately though, the centre has become overcrowded, and inmates can get out if they opt for bail (which usually costs about US$ 1,200) but this depends on the mood of the police.”