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03/31/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Recent reports have highlighted the increased threat that Pakistan’s sanitation workers are facing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic striking the country. The dangerous and menial sanitation jobs are specifically reserved for religious minorities in the Sunni-dominated society, and Christians make up some 80-90% of the sanitation workforce. They are severely underpaid, they work in dangerous conditions, and they are rarely if ever provided with the safety equipment necessary to perform their duties.

The role of sanitation worker in Pakistan has never been a safe one, but the onset of COVID-19 puts the workers at even greater risk. Part of a society that sees them as second-class citizens, Christians in Pakistan are extremely vulnerable—reports from the ground even suggest that at least one Pakistani charity is refusing to distribute food to needy Christians.

Pakistan systematically marginalizes its Christian population politically, socially, economically, and communally. Christians are forced to live in high-density colonies where basic services are not provided and they face constant fear of persecution. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic expanding rapidly across the world, Christians are more at risk than ever, especially in areas where access to basic care is far from guaranteed.

Now more than ever it is in the interest of Pakistan’s government to ensure that all workers have the proper equipment to do their jobs safely and contain the spread of the virus. Not acting to protect its sanitation workers, will only exacerbate the spread of the virus in Pakistan and increase the impact of the pandemic across all levels of society. The international community should pressure Pakistan in this regard and encourage it to attend to the rights of the most vulnerable in its society. U.S. diplomats should raise these concerns with their counterparts in Pakistan to ensure that Pakistani citizens of all religious convictions are protected from the growing pandemic.

Matias Perttula serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.