London: (By Hannah Chowdhry and Juliet Chpwdhry) Floods have ravaged Thailand where thousands of Pakistani Christians fleeing persecution have been seeking refuge or hoping to transition to a hospitable nation in the West.
The floods are the worst to hit Thailand for many years. Thai Authorities reported that more than 70,000 homes were inundated, 13,000 people have been displaced, and six people killed (click here).
Bangkok based Pak-Christians are illegal in a nation that has not endorsed UN conventions for Asylum.
No flood support is available to them, so they face a huge uphill struggle to survive as the price of food and household goods increases due large swathes of crop destruction, travel restrictions and commercial loss – contributing to inflated prices.
Heavy rain brought by Tropical Storm Noru triggered floods across Thailand and Vietnam after first causing devastation in the Philippines (click here). In Thailand 3,121 households were affected by strong winds and rainfall from the tropical cyclone. 35 districts of the provinces of Phetchabun, Amnat Charoen, Sisaket, Yasothon, Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen, Chaiyaphum, Mukdahan, Saraburi, Chainat and Sa Kaeo were affected.
But this was only the start of the inundation in Thailand and only days later Tropical Storm Dianmu caused more severe flooding in 30 provinces, inundating 70,000 homes, displacing 13,000 people and killing six people.
Streets were filled with rain and for days most shops and businesses have remained shut following Royal Thai Government advice.
The heavy rain has continued since then, causing further flooding and the rising of rivers. On 2nd October Royal Thai authorities issued emergency warnings for communities close to rivers in the Chao Phraya and Pa Sak river basins. This of course includes Bangkok where thousands of Pakistani Christians have resided. The majority of migrations began after the attack on the Christian community in Gojra 2009 (click here), an event which led to the creation of British Asian Christian Association.
These asylum seeker and refugee families many of whom are registered with the UNHCR and would have various rights in nations that have ratified the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and often the 1967 protocol, have none in Thailand. Their children have no access to schools, they are not permitted to work and they have no recourse to public funds or healthcare.
Many of these families have eked out an existence through illegal work that is arduous and paid a pittance. Moreover, those who work face the daily risk of being arrested and placed in Bangkok’s brutal Immigration Detention Centre (IDC). During the flood these families have not been able to earn, as many shops and businesses have been closed, due to excessive rain and flood danger. The constant pressure on these families has led to huge stress and anxiety and reciprocally poor mental health.
Parveen Barkat( 48 yrs) fled her home along her sister Ruth Javed and her family. They left Pakistan 7 years ago due to several violent attacks by Muslim neighbours, who threatened to impose the nations notorious blasphemy law on the family. Their home in Sialkot was only days later appropriated by the Muslim family that had troubled them. Parveen told us what the situation was like, she said:
“The heavy rain and wind has not stop for days.
“So much water has fallen that roads are flooded and in many areas homes have been badly damaged.
“We live in a condo so we are less affected as our flat is not on ground level.
“But many shops and businesses are closed due to flood damage or to protect their properties.
“The government has asked for people to stay in their homes unless necessary to leave.
“The reduction in sales and the cost of flood damage has forced shops and business to charge higher prices.
“Our already difficult lives have become even more burdened.
“Not only do we have no income but even when we borrow money we cannot afford what is being sold.”
Yousaf Babu was supported with a food grant.
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“When I think about how Pak-Christians are treated in Thailand it makes me shudder.
“These families have escaped brutal attacks, rape, the burning down of their homes, terrorist attacks and more.
“Yet when they get to Thailand a place they view as a safe haven they soon discover that they illegal immigrants even when registered with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].
“If caught they face being incarcerated with rapists and murderers or they can pay a fine and suffer the ignominy of a lifetime in the brutal IDCs in Bankok.
“Even then they choose this life rather than death or severe persecution in Pakistan.
“With our help the BBC revealed that many are professionals such as doctors, lawyers and teachers with their lives laid waste.
“Instead of being allowed to work, earn and contribute to society, these families face a torturous existence on the poverty line, hiding from Royal Thai authorities.
“Worse still their unschooled children become a lost generation.”
To help Parveen and 9 other families British Asian Christian Association has given 10 grants of £25 to purchase food and other necessities. We would like to increase the number of these grants we provide but require your help to do so. If you have been moved by what you have heard in this account and want to help then please donate (here).
Though a large amount of UNHCR work takes place in Bangkok delays in processing and bizarre rejections of asylum applications have left many Pak-Christians languishing in a terrible situation. A report by British Asian Christian Association helped UNHCR raise 300,000 euros through the European Union, a grant that was used to expedite claims for many Christians – some of whom had waited over 6 years for an assessment (click here)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: