Pakistani asylum Seekers in Thailand raise concerns ahead of UNGA

Asylum Seekers from Delight Condo detained by Thai Officials for over staying visa

In 1974, Pakistan declared the Ahmadiyya as a non-Muslim community using a constitutional amendment, which soon after lead to the community becoming the most persecuted religious community in the country. Ahmadis are not allowed to call themselves as Muslims and are prohibited from preaching or practicing their faith If they do so they can be charged and arrested under the country’s anti-Ahmadiyya laws.

Due to this continuous persecution, many Ahmadis end up fleeing the country. Many have sought Asylum in the US, Canada & Europe. A recent report showed most of the asylum seekers coming from Pakistan were Ahmadis. But getting asylum is not an easy process, the hardest part is fleeing the country, getting to countries like the U.S. or Canada is not an easy task. A recent report showed Embassies of western countries denied visas to persecuted minorities as they could potentially claim asylum. This practice has restricted options for Pakistani refugees. Many Ahmadis end up seeking refuge in East Asian countries like Thailand, Nepal, Srilanka and Malaysia which relatively have an easy Visa policy for Pakistani citizens.

In Thailand alone, there are nearly 10,000 Pakistani Asylum Seekers, the highest number after the Rohingya. Many have applied for asylum through UNHCR (United Nations Commission for Refugees) and are seeking resettlement to a third country. During this process, all asylum seekers are registered and issued UN identification, which certifies that they are an “internationally recognized person of concern”. This means they can not be arrested or detained for seeking asylum while the UN reviews their case. Since Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention or its protocols, these asylum seekers are considered illegals aliens under Thailand’s Immigration Act and can be subjected subject to arrest, detention, and deportation.

During the time it takes for the UNHCR to make a decision on their case, all of these asylum seekers have to find and pay for temporary accommodation on their own. Due to lack of funds, UNHCR is unable to assist the asylum seekers financially or any other way. In some cases, asylum seekers can be reimbursed for medical costs through partners like BRC (Bangkok Refugees Center) which is only limited to deadly diseases. Smaller nonprofits like Asylum Access and JRS do try to support the refugees with pro bono work .

Typical Room including Kitchen which accomodates family of 7

Since countries like Thailand consider asylum seekers as illegals they can not obtain any legal status in the country and hence unable to work legally.

26-year-old Ijaz Ahmad fled to Thailand with his wife in 2013. He says “I and my wife fled Pakistan and came to Thailand 3 years ago but not even our initial screening interview has been conducted so far. We can’t work as we don’t have a legal status, We have to survive on money sent by our relatives and that is also a very challenging process as we don’t have any legal document proving our stay in Thailand.”

The only way to keep their stay legal in Thailand is to renew their visa for which they have to go back to Pakistan after every 3 months. If they do so they will be giving up their asylum claim and going back to a country they fled in the first place.

Many of the Pakistani Asylum Seekers end up working as illegal laborers, working 12 hours a day on the minimum wage they earn around 200 USD per month. During work, they risk being detained by Thai Immigration since they are illegals.

Sumaira, a mother of three says whose husband has been detained by immigration says “Our interview has been scheduled for 2018 and our current financial situation even with the help of family members won’t sustain us for long”.

Another, Pakistani Ahmadi 39-year-old Khalid Ahmad says “Our initial screening Interview was last scheduled for June 2015 but has been delayed 3 times since”.

Aftab Ahmad was detained by Thai Police, along with Imran But last year from Bangkok

Aftab Ahmed, whose brother was killed in an attack on an Ahmadiyya Mosque in 2010. He fled to Thailand to escape but has been in detention since last year. Speaking to RabwahTimes from the detention center he said that he was being kept in a small overcrowded room. “There are around 160 people in the room of 60 and when we sleep we can not move as it bothers others. He says food in the detention facility is also scarce and volunteers from Ahmadiyya Muslim Community come by to provide him food.”

Many Pakistani Ahmadis who were detained and released had to pay heavy fines for overstaying their visa and after their release they were deported back to Pakistan.

Sources close to UNHCR say countries who take refugees through UNHCR have a limited quota which has shrunk after the influx of Syrian refugees.

Some asylum seekers have been told by Bangkok’s UNHCR officials that it could take up to 10 years for the resettlement process.

Many are concerned about the prospect of living another 10 years without a regular job or legal status. Those with families are worried about the future of their children. Many say their even though kids are accepted into Thai Government Schools, they are discriminated against by other kids and singled out and punished by teachers.

According to sources, there are around 44 Ahmadis and 225 Christians in Bangkok’s detention centers.

Members of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community told Rabwah Times that the community has had several meetings with UNHCR, Thai Immigration officials, and other stakeholders to highlight the difficulties faced by refugees, But it looks like UNHCR is out of sources, and Thai Government is not open to dialogue. Britain-based Humanitarian Sir Iftikhar Ayaz has also worked closely with the International Commission of Peace (ICOP) to highlight the issues faced by refugees in Thailand.