Calls for change to UK policy towards Pakistani Christian asylum seekers grow during launch of new report on persecution of minorities in Pakistan

 
 

meeting-house-of-commonsLondon, British Pakistani Christian Association – Renowned parliamentarians and human rights activists challenged British politicians to alter their policy towards Pakistani Christian asylum seekers and introduce more robust accountability measure for UK Foreign aid of which Pakistan is the largest recipient. The challenge was registered at a UK Parliament launch of British Pakistani Christian Association’s latest book detailing grave human rights abuses of minorities in Pakistan.

To combat the ongoing escalation of religious persecution in Pakistan, the British Pakistani Christian Association has launched the latest edition of its scholarly report which aims to highlight the grave human rights violations which characterise the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the country.

The event was initially chaired by Jim Shannon MP who is the Chairman for the All Parliamentary Party Group for Pakistani Minorities. Mr Shannon commenced the proceedings by drawing attention to the fact ‘early intervention can save lives for those accused of blasphemy’ in particular he called for stronger focus on the thousands of Pakistani asylum seekers in Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, many of who find themselves re-persecuted in nations that have not signed UN convention for asylum.  He also spoke of the immense persecution of minorities in Pakistan that he believes has been incorrectly labelled as severely discriminated a tag that has resulted in numerous failed Pakistani Christian asylum seekers. He said: “A change in policy would result in more favourable assessment of Pakistani Christian asylum applications every effort has to be made to alter the existing position.”
The book’s author, Desmond Fernandes, took the opportunity to first highlight the success of the report. He pointed out that the ‘The aim of the updated third edition of this book has been to stimulate debate and action from concerned members of the public, parliamentarians worldwide, the UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact (which is being presented with this book), several European rights organisations, the UK Commons Select Committee/International Development Committee (where this is being presented as a formal submission to its ongoing Inquiry examining the effectiveness or otherwise of the Department for International Development’s international educational aid programmes), public interest and community and non-government organisations, lawyers, academics, educationalists, investigative journalists, refugee and asylum and linguistic rights campaigners, faith and non-faith groups and students.’

Wilson Chowdhry delivered early copies of the book to Australian Senators, MPs and ministers to change their position with regards to Pakistani Christian asylum seekers’. However, the author was not happy with the positions of the Uk Home Office on providing asylum for those in danger citing that ‘they had moved’ but ‘not significantly enough’ and as such the Home Office guidance for asylum cases was ‘dangerously flawed’. Drawing on data to support this claim, he made the example of only one Yazidi family having been allowed asylum in the UK and that this was ‘representative’ of a wider problem; out of 2992 Pakistani requests for UK asylum only 16 had been granted in 2015-16. Moreover, ‘the rejection rate for Pakistani asylum seekers is much worse in the rest of Europe: 90% in 2016. He called for end to arms sales to Pakistan pointing to the persecution of Baluch and Christian minorities. Lastly, ‘in Greece the asylum rate is only 2%’ with some cases showing Pakistani migrants are kept separate from other asylum seekers and blocked from even applying. It was worrying people from Pakistan and Afghanistan are ‘seen as economic migrants and therefore undeserving’. Read Desmond Fernandes full speech (click here)

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, took over as Chairperson for the meeting after Jim Shannon left the meeting.  He spoke of a growing relationship forged with officers of the Home Office that had led to minor changes to UK policy towards Pakistani Christians. BPCA had been involved in a private discussion with officers at the Home Office headquarters and submitted several reports including reports written by Desmond Fernandes. These discussions had led to a small improvement in the risk profile of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers, but way below the recommendations of the BPCA.  Wilson spoke of a new training programme that had been adopted by the Home office for interviewers of Christian asylum seekers, that now allows for a more spiritual review of a Christian’s beliefs, rather then trivia based questioning that had culminated in failed applications due to a flawed assessment.  The current training programme is being reviewed by the BPCA and further suggestions will be forwarded to the key officer responsible for promulgating the training.   Wilson also read out a letter of support from Senator Abetz of Australia a copy of which can be read below:

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David Alton, Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and an original founder of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or belief, pointed to £1Billion in two years of British aid to Pakistan, ‘not a single penny of which has been used in any fashion to promote Human Rights ‘Article 18’ or protect minorities’. He believed that despite abundant amounts in aid, Pakistan is still not ‘functioning or thriving’ because ‘loss of freedoms has a correlation with economic degradation’. He went on to notify attendees that he had ‘convened hearings from all minorities from Pakistan in Portcullis house last year’ having visited detention centres in that country. Shocking conditions in these areas were found and ‘we took secret cameras in for an expose on the conditions there. In cases of Islamists attacking Christians who refused to convert, reporting to police led, shockingly, to the police informing the Islamists of who had informed on them. He closed his remarks by stressing the importance of ‘Article 18, the article which preserves freedoms of religion. It is crucial to change the government’s position from ‘Discrimination’ to ‘Persecution’. He stressed this had to manifest itself in ‘textbooks in Pakistani Schools’ as this was an ‘important aspect of promoting tolerance and religious freedom’. Citing the example of Asad Shah’s murder in the UK, he pointed out that these issues were not confined to Pakistan: ‘we have to act in Pakistan if we want to help us at home’.

Margaret Owen OBE added to these remarks by stressing the plight of women and the discrimination of minorities being an international struggle: ‘The threat we face is not isolated to Pakistan, it is a cancer around the world. The case of women in Pakistan is also a dire one, with direct contravention of treaties: use of so-called ‘honour’ killings, child marriages, acid attacks, are all prolific. Highlighting the plight of women, she added: ‘Women are the frontline target of ethnic and religious minorities’. Overall, she stressed the importance of fighting religious discrimination, ‘I find it shameful and scandalous of the silence of the international community’ stressing that the West and its allies could do much more in aiding minorities: ‘In Turkey today the persecution of Kurds is continuous whereas the Kurdish people’s grouping looks to create a country founded on equality of genders and freedom of religion. We in the West are the Poodle of Turkey, of Saudi Arabia and of Pakistan. There is a ‘genocide’ taking place under ISIS. The Kurdish women’s organisations are working very hard. The Turkish state in its persecution of the Kurds and their leaders denies them basic legal rights like access to a lawyer. The EU, UK and US do not recognise Rojava, they Rojava however, are not separatists- what they want in Syria and in Turkey is freedom of belief. Turkey fears recognition of the Kurds greatly who have a right to self-determination’. She finished her remarks by commenting on what work was being done to solve these issues stating, ‘we are working on a new convention against violence towards women, the CEDOR does not do the job. We have no issue condemning genocide by ISIS but not by a government. We have much empirical evidence of Turkey’s involvement in persecution. I’d like to be proud of the UK’.

Saleh Memon of the Campaign against Criminalising Communities, brought attention to the lack of UK government scrutiny on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws: ‘Has the British government done anything about blasphemy laws? Has it challenged them? If we claim to have an ethical foreign policy then surely it should be condemned. It seems to me they haven’t taken a stand on that. Given all the evidence in the book it is concerning that the FCO does not recognise the systematic persecution of Christians in Pakistan. It seems there is a deliberate policy of ignoring asylum claims. Our governments do not consider the Geneva Conventions to be important, they don’t abide by the treatment for refugees -therefore the Pakistani Government can disregard them as well’. He spoke about the dire state of education in Pakistan and its lack of secular orientation too citing that textbooks being used in madrassas reflected the ‘Wahabi ideology of Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani government is focused on low-cost private education instead of a universal state education’, which he believed had led to this problem.

Ranbir Singh, Chair of Hindu Human Rights Group, could not make the meeting, his written speech was read out by Frederick Molesworth: 

‘This book by Desmond Fernandes, looking at the educational system of Pakistan and the refugee crisis emanating from that country, sheds light on areas that have been neglected, brushed aside or ignored. What should be an unambiguous situation of gross human rights violations has once again become subject to the pressure of political convenience, spin and propaganda.

 

‘The case of Malala Yousafzai is well known. For daring to criticise the Taliban and their attempts to stop education of girls, Malala was shot in the head by the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat e-Mohammadi, one of the groups that comprise the loosely allied Pakistan Taliban. As Desmond Fernandes writes, she has become not just an icon, but a commercial brand used even by those forces who were funding the very terrorism that had led to her attempted assassination…..’

‘….Much is now made of the ‘Hindu’ lobby with ‘Hindu’ role models such as Conservative MPs Shailesh Vara and Priti Patel: the former is chair of Conservative Friends of India, the latter now serves as Secretary of State for International Development where she has been more stringent on how aid is given.

‘Both MPs have forged links with India, and especially the current prime minister Narendra Modi. However, this has been driven by commercial interests, with human rights of Hindus omitted. There is nothing to compare with the lobbying of Naz Shah MP, Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi. Indeed, Patel has said it would be inappropriate for her to comment on Kashmir.

‘Now this only poses a problem if we put the persecuted into neat compartments. While belonging to any said ‘community’ may help, what matters more is knowledge and dedication to the subject. Desmond Fernandes is neither Kurdish nor Armenian and yet has written and campaigned with respect to the genocide suffered by those respective communities.
‘It was Wilson Chowdhry, a Christian, who has brought issues of Hindus and other persecuted minorities in Pakistan to the fore. Peter Tatchell began his human rights work in support of Indigenous Australians, impoverished and at one point even denied the vote in their ancestral land. It is this which moves us beyond any ‘brand’ and transcends the need for any commercial ‘viability’.
‘While my focus has been on the human rights for Hindus, ultimately these can only be guaranteed in the wider framework of dignity and respect for all, an environment where there are checks and balances on power.’  Read Ranbir Singh’s full commentary (click here)

Mosa Zahed, Executive director of Middle East Forum for Development: Unreservedly provided his group’s support for the launch of the report which he noted essentially aims to improve the human rights of minorities in Pakistan, who continue to be persecuted by the authorities. He extended congratulations to ‘Desmond Fernandes who effectively shed light through his comprehensive book on the dire circumstances and grim outlook of Pakistan’s ethnic and religious minorities’.

He said; ‘Our organisation has in the recent past, in cooperation with the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), organised various special hearings in the Dutch House of Representatives on minorities in Pakistan and played a significant role in promoting legislation that makes it easier for Pakistani Christians, who have fled their country fearing oppression and discrimination due to their religious belief, to obtain asylum in The Netherlands. Our joint endeavours ultimately altered the asylum policy of the Dutch government vis-à-vis Pakistani Christians, as the authorities designated the latter as ‘high risk group’.

He added: Today, we join the BPCA and Desmond Fernandes in their call for the Home Office and the EU to acknowledge the persecution status of Pakistani Christians in order to guarantee their protection.

Education in Pakistan was of main concern to the author, Desmond Fernandes who added that attention needs to be dtawn to the lack of accountability in Pakistani education aid funding: ‘£
225 Million of the money spent every year is earmarked for ‘holistic education reform’. It’s not clear how well this is being used, we would call for more education for different minorities; Christians have a far lower literacy in Pakistan than Muslims and work in the poorest jobs, there are segregationist policies in employment. The majority of slaves working in kilns and factories are Christians’. Ranger Singh added by drawing on the case of Malala, the girl shot by the Taliban for demanding an education, to stress the plight of refugees: ‘Pakistan and Thailand were both Members of SEATO during the cold war. They both received substantial western aid. Refugees have been substantially politicised and seen as terrorists, despite them fleeing from that very thing’.  
Peter Tatchell closed the afternoon’s remarks by concluding ‘Pakistan is more or less a failed state by indices of health, education, terrorism and corruption. There are millions living below the poverty line. We know the government has money but much of it is in private bank accounts. The repression we’re witnessing in cities like Karachi is so scary, human rights activists, liberals, secularists, atheists, and those who go to their defence face disappearance, kidnapping, intimidation, and assassination. We need to step up our pressure on the British government to make Pakistan adhere to international conventions’.

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:

“Reports such as these that rely on empirical data are the most effective tool in a humanitarian NGO’s arsenal.  We at the BPCA hope the British Government especially the Home Office department reviews our findings and apply this to future policies relating to Pakistani minorities.   Their current positioning places Christians and other minorities in great danger and many experts believe the risk profile of the Pak-Christian minority in particular is flawed.

“Four bomb attacks in four years targetting Christians in Pakistan, an estimated number of one million Christian slaves in Pakistan and the fact that 15%  of all blasphemy convictions in Pakistan are laid against Christians – who only make of 1.6% of the population, illustrates how they are being targeted. Moreover a report by Movement of Solidarity and peace (A Mulsim NGO) in 2014 that estimates 700 Christian girls are kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriage ever year, is tantamount to a cultural genocide.

“The commitment Desmond Fernandes has shown towards helping so many persecuted minority groups out side of any personal bias, and the desire to help Pakistani minorities shown by Lord Alton and MP Jim Shannnon are commendable.  I pray now that other politicians heed this challenge and a decision is made to agree stronger terms for Foreign aid funding to Pakistan linked to improvement in human rights in the country.  Moreover it’s about time Britain improved asylum opportunity for Christians and other minorities fleeing Pakistan, after all it was their disastrous decision to create the state of Pakistan that has led to the blood shed and persecution of so many innocent victims.”

Electronic copies of the new book can be bought for only £2.50 by clicking (here). A printed copy of the book will be on sale at www.britishpakistanichristians.org from the page labelled ‘shop’ in 10 days time.

British Pakistani Christian Association are asking people to sign this petition calling for change to the existing risk profile for Pakistani Christian asylum seekers (click here)

Read more: http://www.britishpakistanichristians.org/blog/calls-for-change-to-uk-policy-towards-pakistani-christian-asylum-seekers-grow-during-launch-of-new-r

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