London: The refugee and asylum seekers in Thailand were just beginning to recover from the latest COVID-19 lockdown in Bangkok, when the threat of the new Omicron variant emerged.
At the moment around 7000 cases of COVID-19 infections every day, which is worrying for the asylum seeker community. The Royal Thai Government (RTG) relaxed their processes to allow asylum seekers to be vaccinated under pressure from humanitarian groups and international bodies.
However, initially the Pak-Christians and other asylum seekers were reluctant to take part in the vaccination programme for fear of arrest. However BACA has been encouraging more of the community to get these vaccinations and most of those in the correct age category have now done so.
The last lockdown left many families near starvation and concerns have been raised by the thousands of Pakistani Christians, who make up more than 90% of the asylum seeker community on Bangkok.
Many of these Christian families have returned to exploitative black market employments or found new ones.
One refugee registered with the UNHCR, said:
“The last lockdown was brutal we had no income and went days without food.
“We work cash-in-hand jobs that are illegal and are not entitled to government support.
“BACA food parcels and help from friends kept us alive.
“Often my wife and I ate nothing for a full day to ensure our children could eat well.
“Another lockdown fills me with dread.”
Thailand has refused to ratify UN Conventions on asylum and this make life extremely difficult for asylum seeker families.
Their status remains illegal even when their asylum cases are being investigated or approved by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This results in many of them having to take on difficult, arduous work for a pittance and with the constant threat of threat and return to dangerous nations.
Those who are discovered are arrested and kept in the brutal Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) of Bangkok. Large operations every year ensure the IDC is filled to capacity with women and children often locked in the same facilities. This is despite Thailand having signed UN Conventions for protection of children.
Several deaths in the IDC have occurred due to alleged medical negligence causing huge anxiety in the Pak-Christian asylum seeker community.
British Asian Christian Association, helped the BBC film a secret documentary at the Bangkok IDC when one of our team travelled secretly travelled to Bangkok with a BBC film crew (click here), risking arrest to shed light on the situation faced by the asylum diaspora there. This link (here) is a report that we helped BBC’s Chris Rogers write which also contains a short video of one of our schools for asylum seekers. You can watch the full documentary here:
Before our efforts and our work with Special Protection Officer Peter Trotter waiting times from registration to decision by UNHCR could take up to 7 years. Since our submission of a 467 page report on persecution in Pakistan waiting times for all refugees (of which Pak-Christians make up close to 90%) has reduced to two years. This is due to the report being used as a tool to gain a 300,000 euro grant from the EU Commission resulting in 8 new officers who rapidly reduced the backlog (click here)
Now our support includes help with food packages for often starving families, trying to cope with the financial difficulties arising from Thailand’s unwillingness to sign UN conventions for asylum. We share images and videos of our latest group supported with food parcels.
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
"Many of these Pak- Christian Families have been living a life in limbo in Bangkok for over 5 years.
"Slowly but surely more of them are being taken up on sponsorship programmes in safe countries in the west.
"The recent attack on a Sri Lankan Man in Sialkot, Pakistan (click here) reminds us all of the threat that Christians face daily.
"All these asylum seekers want is to be in a country that is equal, fair and allows them to practice their faith without the threat of death."
Juliet Chowdhry, added:
"We will be doing our best to make Christmas a time of rejoicing for these families.
"If donations reach our targets we hope to hold three services to allow those fearful of travelling a church service to remember in their condos.
"Like in most incidents of asylum it is children that suffer the most and we hope to provide gifts and prayers to remind them of the love God has for them."
We are reaching between 15 – 20 families each month but the need is greater. If you are moved to help these Christian families by sponsoring our regular food packages then you can use one of the payment options listed (here). A donation of £30 provides a family of 4 people with food for one month.