This story is typical!
Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention and considers these asylum seekers, who hold UNHCR asylum seeker cards, as being illegals in the country. The are live in constant fear of being arrested and sent to the IDC, or worse, the Central Jail. Imagine years of going through this process waiting to be approved and sent to a host country. High blood pressure and depression is common even for young adults.
Many Pakistani Christians in Thailand are now being denied asylum status. When the UNHCR denies asylum, the applicant is given 30 days to appeal against the decision or their case file is automatically closed. If they decide to appeal, then their cards are extended for another year. If the applicant decides not to appeal, then they must file an application in writing to be repatriated which they can do through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) who are accepting applications for those with active and closed files that want to repatriate.
Jackson, his wife and their 1 yr. old son, who was born in Thailand, is a family who had received support through Voice of the Persecuted’s relief program. Sadly are going back to Pakistan. After a series of devastating events, the couple made the very hard choice to leave Thailand and return to Pakistan. The UNHCR had recently denied their application for refugee status and told them it was safe for them to return despite the heavy impetus of ongoing persecution against Christians in Pakistan.
The family was extremely disappointed with the decision and did not want to go back as they feared for their lives in their homeland. Despite the UNHCR’s rejection, they were determined to stay in Thailand and appeal the denial. However, they were forced to review their decision when Jackson was called back to the Thai Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) on 31st August 2017.
Along with other asylum seekers, Jackson was arrested when Bangkok police and Thai immigration authorities carried out raids in March 2015. He went through a harrowing experience of staying in Central Jail with hardened criminals then subsequently moved to the IDC. He had been on a bail bond of 50,000 THB ($1500) since August 2015. He was required to report every 2 weeks to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC) and he had been punctual in doing so. In March 2017, his bail was in jeopardy as the IDC was in conflict with UNHCR. The IDC issued a notification that the bails of those who had not received refugee status from the UNHCR would be cancelled. At that time, approximately 200 asylum seekers were on bail. Like them, Jackson was still waiting for the status result and told to return to the IDC.
Miraculously, some charities and the UNHCR negotiated with the IDC to extend the deadline so the UNHCR would have more time to assess the cases. Unanimously it was decided that the IDC would extend its deadline till August 2017 and in return the UNHCR would give results of all those on bail. It is disturbing to note since then, all except one have been denied refugee status by UNHCR. Upon appeal, most have had their files closed and their UN identity cards confiscated. The closure of their UNHCR asylum file automatically gives the IDC the right to cancel the bail. However, Jackson’s case remained active because, in fear for his family’s situation, he never appealed against the UNHCR’s decision. He feared that the UNHCR would close their case if they appealed, so they requested for return tickets from the IOM instead.
The return process was also not easy for them. They needed travel documents to return. Jackson’s passport had been confiscated by the IDC and his son didn’t have a passport as he was born in Thailand. Jackson had to go to the Pakistan Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand where embassy officials treated him with disgust and humiliated him by calling him a traitor.
Jackson cried and told them that he had 1-year old son and asked them to have pity on him. The officials asked him to give a copy of his UN cards and told him to write in the application that he felt safe returning to Pakistan. Under pressure, he felt he had to write as they asked. We believe the Government of Pakistan will use such applications at an international level to prove its innocence despite its World Watch List status of the
4th worst country to live as a Christian.
The young father pleaded to the Immigration to extend his bail by 4 more days as he had return tickets for this month, but they didn’t listen to him. He was put in the IDC while his wife remained outside with their son. They too have confirmed tickets. Jackson would be taken to the airport from the IDC and his wife travel alone with her son. She was also expected to pay 20,000 THB ($614) or else she would not be allowed to embark the flight. Because she evaded arrest during her stay in Thailand, the penalty of staying illegally in Thailand must be paid before she could leave. If the fine couldn’t be paid, she would have to stay, with her son, in the IDC for over 1 week before being allowed to leave the country. She feared her 1-year old son might contract a skin infection or other contagious diseases. Graciously, a Thai citizen paid her fine and airfare for the family. We are grateful for their compassion.
By Christian, VOP Asian Correspondent
“Blessed are those that are persecuted.” Matthew 5:11
This appalling situation has forced ‘our brother and sister’ to make this high-risk decision. Our hearts are hurting for them and our prayers go with them.
Once in Thailand, the family will move to another province in effort to be safe from their persecutors, but there is no guarantee that they would ever be safe.
Please keep them in your prayers as they wanted to stay but were stuck in whirlpool of problems in Thailand’s harsh system which instigated their extremely hard choice to return.
VOP is on the ground in Thailand. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.