Saturday, April 4, 2015

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: Pakistani Asylum Seekers in Bangkok's Neighborhoods

Hi friends,

This is a long post, but I encourage you to read to the end. This topic has been weighing on my heart for some time, and I've finally put together some information about it. Please read, comment and contact me with any questions or concerns. 

I knew essentially nothing about Pakistan before I came to Thailand. Nor did I think that living in Thailand would teach me anything at all about a country in central Asia for which I had no frame of reference or real concern, or make me care so deeply for a people I had never met.

But God works in mysterious ways.

I began attending a church that ministers to some refugees in the area. I joined a small fellowship group through the church’s network, and one of these families was in my group. I had just moved to Thailand, and I was feeling very lonely. This family saw the loneliness I was carrying inside me, and they invited me over to their home. I went, a bit nervous, but was welcomed with the most genuine Christian love and hospitality I have experienced in many years. It didn’t matter that their home consisted of two small rooms with one big bed on the floor—which they converted into our dining table. They showed great appreciation for my company. In reality, I appreciated their company more than they knew, and I kept going back to sit and visit with them. Sometimes we would sing or play music. Other times we would play chess. Always we laughed and prayed, and there would be delicious food and tea. They told me many stories about their lives back home. They told me of their persecution and how Muslim Extremists had registered the blackened 295-C legal case against them: The Blaspheme Law against the Muslim Prophet Mohammad. In Pakistan, anyone accused of blasphemy receives execution. So the family fled to Bangkok.

In Bangkok today, there are approximately six thousand asylum seekers from Pakistan, most of whom have been accused of violating the Blaspheme Law. They come to Thailand because it is very easy to enter on a tourist visa. However,  as soon as those visas run out, they are regarded as criminals. 

Thailand, to this day, has never signed the UN Commission of Refugees;  this means that every asylum seeker and refugee, regardless of their status under the UNHCR (the UN High Commission on Refugees), is illegal. In the last month, police have arrested hundreds of families and thrown them behind bars. Last week I visited the Immigration Detention Center; the "prisoners" are detained in hot, overcrowded rooms. They are let out to walk around the building only twice a month, and they have extremely limited contact with the outside world. They have no clean drinking water, receive meager meals and very limited medicine. There is a host of diseases inside. It's a terrible place to be, but for most, it is their only option. The only way out is to be granted refugee status by the United Nations, a process which takes years, or to go back to Pakistan.  There is no choice but to suffer in prison. It is a terrible, terrible place.

Yet despite these struggles, something remarkable is happening. Communities of asylum seekers are uniting to create lives for themselves and their children. They may not be in control of their futures, but they can change their present circumstance, through faith, perseverance, friendship and sharing their stories. And they are doing just that.

 ************************************

Last year, my friend opened a makeshift school in his one room flat for the neighborhood children to learn. The school has grown to reach of 140 children all over the city. A few months ago, I went and taught drama lessons to some of the children. Their enthusiasm, excitement, and sharp wit brought me to tears (not in that room, of course. I had to be cool. They are teenagers, after all.) I miss them. I hope to see them again. I haven't been back, because the learning center had to shut down. Thai police began patrolling the neighborhood round the clock, and most families were too afraid to send their children outside.

Still, God works through the darkest circumstances. He brought these children out of Pakistan. He has delivered them from incredibly dangerous situations. He has opened four learning centers, one of which was given generously by the wife of a high-ranking Thai army official. The Lord works in miraculous ways.

When I visited the IDC last week I had the honor of meeting other residents of Bangkok who are doing their best to care for the detainees however they can. They work under the constraints of the visitor's rules and regulations to deliver home cooked meals, diapers, water, food and supplies to as many people as they can.

So why is this so important? Well, being here has showed me with my own unbelieving eyes how powerful prayer is. Most of all, these people need our support and to know we love them and our thinking about them. Even if you don't pray, just sending some thoughts, or talking to a friend who may not know what's going on, can do tremendous things to alleviate the suffering of people who feel so alone. And somehow, I feel like I'm here to help.

************************************

For more information about the situation, I recommend the following articles:

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/907aad6cecba463794926748e1fb4369/stuck-limbo-bangkoks-hidden-urban-refugees-scrape

http://farrukhsaif.com/crack-down-against-pakistani-asylum-seekers-in-bangkok-thailand/

http://liferaftinternational.org/about-us/the-situation-in-bangkok

With Love,
Mel

No comments:

Post a Comment