Toronto: November 20, 2018. (PCP) Pak-Canadian Christians have been diligently lobbying their government to act on behalf of blasphemy victims, and to continue advocacy for Asia Bibi. Asia Bibi still needs to be removed from the ECL list and diplomatic measures with Pakistan need to continue for her, but also to repeal the blasphemy laws that are at the root of this case. While government engage in talks, and concerned citizens raise their concerns; bureaucratic protocols continues to cause delays that endanger blasphemy victims.
Asia Bibi is not the only person in peril, approximately 2500 Pak-Christians who have fled a similar fate due to the draconian blasphemy laws continue to experience a harsh crackdown, and are being sent out of Thailand's frying pan back to the fire of persecution in Pakistan.
British Pakistani Christian Association Canadian Representative Keri-Lynn Gibbs was in Mississauga at two events last week put on by the Toronto area Pakistani Christian Community in support of Asia Bibi and asylum seekers in Bangkok.
The evening event which was an urgent meeting for Bangkok Pak-Christians was held at the Canadian Coptic Centre in Mississauga primarily in solidarity with asylum-seekers who were rounded up in the recent crackdown and who are still waiting to be bailed out.
An unrelated event earlier in the afternoon was organized by a Pak-Canadian student who lead a rally for the Canadian government to give Asia asylum in freezing rain outside government MP Iqra Khalid's office, who is herself of Pakistani origins, but has yet to weigh in on the Asia Bibi case, or the blasphemy laws which have resulted in a serious back-up of refugees in places like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia. and Greece.
The evening event was well attended by a cross-section of people from the Pakistani Christians Churches from Greater Toronto area and blended both political action and prayer. Numerous churches were represented by clergy and congregants who attended in support of the cause. Many dignitaries, and politicians were present to hear the community's concerns raised as prayers offered to God on behalf of Asia Bibi and others fleeing distressing consequences of the blasphemy laws.
Conservative MP Dean Allison and Liberal MP Ramesh Sangha were each given a petition regarding the Pakistani Christians in Thailand. Nitasha Bhatti international Christian Voice spoke of the conditions of Pak-Christian asylum-seekers and gave an articulate overview of the issues facing the Bangkok asylum seekers. Mr Rudy Ovcjak director of the office for refugees of Archdiocese of Toronto who is in charge of strategic oversight gave an address.
A passage was read from the book of Esther where prayer and action where partnered in the deliverance of the Jews under the Persian Empire at the special service entitled: "Prayer & Compassion Evening For our suffering Pakistani Christian refugees", commenced. Both elements were included.
Rev. Emis Daniel from Evangelical Asian Church who brought a short message, declared: "... we must remember those in prison as if we were together with them and those who are mistreated as if you yourself were suffering ..."
Thoughts for Asia Bibi were not far away from anyone and her simple choice to follow Jesus was an inspiration to everyone present. One statement regarding her faith was:
"Facing death each day Asia Bibi put her trust in God and through faith in Jesus Christ."
Highlights about what to do about the 150 currently in detainment in Bangkok and all the political activities being done for Pakistani Christians that had transpired in Canada were listed including meetings with the Canadian ambassador to Pakistan, the Canadian UNHCR office, US David Andersen and Samuel D Bromback from the International office of Religious Freedom to discuss the situation in Bangkok. Peter Bhatti repeated a report from Ashiq Masih confirming that the family was still in Pakistan but had received no word on the whereabouts of Asia Bibi, and briefly spoke of his visits to other victims of blasphemy allegations.
Javaid Rahim Bakhsh spoke on refugee settlement and prayed for their wellbeing and deliverance from their severe conditions.
Pastor Samuel Gori All Nations Church prayed with faith for open doors for Asia Bibi and all the people in Thailand saying:
"There is nothing impossible! We can look to Lord and he can make a way ..."
Reflecting back on the event on 9th on November Keri-Lynn Gibbs said: "It was difficult for me to know what to say while "quiet talks" are still transpiring, at that time the media was wrongly giving the impression that Asia Bibi was no longer in Pakistan, but BPCA knew she was still under guard for her own safety, and in the thick of negotiations for asylum, which are still underway.
"I was glad to attend the prayer event while I was in town, one where the community was taking action to help blasphemy victims needing asylum and to have been able to attend.
"It is bemusing that the general public and indeed nation states seem to think that these things happen so automatically, that they themselves have nothing to do with it, or that someone else will step up. Action on asylum for Asia and other blasphemy victims has an expiry date and time can run out: The time to act is now!
"The Christian community needs to continue to pray for Asia Bibi's exit from Pakistan and her safe arrival to her country of asylum. Canada is in talks to offer asylum, but at that time Prime Minister Trudeau had not made the overt statement that he did a few days later. People who care about her case should not have the impression that she is yet out of the woods.
"The volatile nature of the situation in Pakistan means having a number of options for asylum is vital to the future security of Asia Bibi, her family and associates. We need only look to see what happened at the embassy of the Netherlands in Pakistan. No one can be sure how they will exit from the country and all options must remain open with their final destination unclosed until their safety can be assured."
A former asylum seeker (name withheld to protect privacy) told a story speaking about the loss and fear that Pak-Christians face in Bangkok and how the immigration raids were so terrifying that one woman had died of fright during a raid.
Ms Gibbs further said: "In a later conversation, the young refugee requested that I ask for prayers so that new arrivals to Canada coming from Bangkok would overcome the depression from all they had been through, be good people and have a good life in their new country, something we are eager to encourage people to pray for.
"Together we also prayed that God would speak to the hearts of Canadians to sponsor Pakistani Christians facing these horrible conditions. The Lord does indeed make a way, but we must walk in that way and do something about the situation.
Ms Gibbs continued: "Canadian private sponsors with refugees in Bangkok are gravely concerned about the well-being of the people for whom they are readily waiting. There are virtually no options for these asylum-seekers to live free of harassment other than to gain refugee status in the few countries willing to grant it.
"Even then the wait is a precarious time for asylum-seekers in Thailand as the country has not signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. At the Toronto event they cited approximately 2500 Pakistani Christians in Bangkok's immigration purgatory. Given Canada's refugee and immigration quotas expediting this number would be a small drop in the bucket.
"Without direct action by Canadians these persecuted refugees who have been cast aside and forgotten by the world, will continue to suffer in limbo and be in jeopardy of much worse. For many their only hope is partnership between a Sponsorship Agreement Holder and a Canadian community group."
Asia Bibi also had an offer by the largest Christian broadcasting network in Canada YES! TV to act at their community sponsor. The importance of this course of action by NGO's and private citizens cannot be understated, because it removes any excuse for their government and shows that Canadian refugee sponsorship protocol would be followed.
Wilson Chowdhry said: "Bureaucratic red-tape is still a matter of concern. In a correspondence received from the department in charge of Australian immigration, we were told that a factor in Asia Bibi not being offered immediate asylum was that the UNHCR had not identified her as a refugee, and when our acting BPCA (Australia) Communications Officer followed up with a telephone call to the UNHCR in Geneva, she was informed that since Asia Bibi was still in her homeland, they could not give her refugee status.
"We sincerely hope that democratic nations will cease ostensibly treating Asia Bibi like a political hot potato. I had a very encouraging meeting with Lord Ahmad on 16th of November where he asserted that the UK would continue to be very involved in the negotiations, but could not confirm whether or not they would grant asylum. I love my country and am thankful for these efforts; but I do continue to hope that Britain will do the right thing and extend asylum on our behalf."
Mr Chowdhry further said: "I am pleased that Canada has been in talks about offering asylum and that PM Trudeau was willing to confirm this, but in order for any refuge to be administered, Asia Bibi must have her block to travel abroad to safety and freedom removed.
"BPCA continues to call on the Canadian Government to apply every available source of pressure in their power to influence the Pakistani authorities to remove any and all travel restrictions that have been imposed on this innocent woman."
Though the ongoing concern for Asia Bibi has been at the forefront of everyone's mind, the urgent situation in Bangkok continues: BPCA is still appealing for the necessary bail fines to release Christians from inside the IDC. We envisage a number of around 20 individuals have to be set free in the first instance as the children do not need to pay fines and will automatically be set free with mothers. Each bail fine has been set at 50,010 baht equivalent to Â£1270 and we will need to raise Â£25,400 to help them.