Born in Thailand to Pakistani assylum seekers, 16-month-old Ariana is stateless. Photo by Michael Swan.

Editorial: They need our help

  • August 6, 2019

Wanted: 63 Canadian parishes with the resources and the heart to rescue 63 Christian families who are huddled in a nation which scorns them as outcasts but who are too scared for their life to go home.

That help-wanted call has gone out from the Archdiocese of Toronto. Its Office for Refugees (ORAT) should be commended for taking on a mission to rescue a pocket of Christian refugees who fled religious persecution in Pakistan only to become trapped in Thailand, where they face oppression from the local government and indifference from the rest of the world.

The Catholic Register accompanied ORAT officials to Bangkok in July to document the plight of these forgotten souls. Some of their stories of misery can be read starting on Page 8 of this issue. What they hold in common is a sense of desperation and abandonment. They need help, our help.

Thai law classifies them as illegal immigrants to be rounded up, jailed and deported back to Pakistan. In Pakistan, they face arrest for alleged infractions of that country’s odious blasphemy laws — laws that are indiscriminately used to level accusations, often contrived, that can lead to life jail terms or death at the hands of mobs.

There are about 1,500 of these Pakistani Christians in Thailand. They can’t go home, at least not safely. 

They are unable to work and live openly in Thailand. They huddle in tiny apartments, fearing a knock at the door from police. They are unable to immigrate to a safe country unless a nation takes pity on their plight as refugees and offers a safe haven.

The ORAT operation won’t rescue all of them, but finding private sponsors for 63 Christian families would give a fresh start in Canada to about 250 people. A quarter of them, 16 families, are expected to find new homes in the Toronto archdiocese. That leaves ORAT hoping 47 other parishes from dioceses which are enrolled in Canada’s private sponsorship program will step up and sponsor a family.

Among those desperate for help is Faraz Pervaiz, a Pakistani refugee whose emergency appeal for Canadian help was told in an exclusive story in the previous issue of The Register. Already facing death threats, Pervaiz and his family were forced into hiding after their Bangkok address was deliberately exposed and a call went out to jihadi fighters to track him down. 

His situation is typical of the peril many Pakistani Christians face when blasphemy laws are wielded like a bludgeon to destroy them. Accusations are easy to make and often impossible to disprove.

The most famous of these cases involved Asia Bibi, a middle-aged woman who was granted asylum in May and moved to a secret Canadian location to escape the jihadists. Coming to her rescue was morally right. 

The largely forgotten Pakistani Christians in Thailand deserve similar compassion.

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