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A 36 year old Pakistani Christian asylum seeker died while in the custody of Thailand's Immigration Department for overstaying his visiting visa.
Ijaz Paras Masih was arrested on the 6th June 2016 during a raid at his condo. The father of three was arrested with dozens of other Pak-Christians as Thai authorities began a heavy clampdown on unwanted asylum seekers. He was captured with three other family members but his wife and children who were out of the home at the time escaped detainment.
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Mr Masih had escaped from Pakistan with a large swathe of his family, dozens of who travelled to Thailand to seek asylum, others to Dubai, Malaysia and other destinations which are unknown outside their original homeland. The family have lost touch with each other in a sad case of fear-driven isolation.
Their reason for fleeing what had been comfortable lives was to escape the zealots out to massacre their whole family after two brothers had been accused of blasphemy including one Qaiser Ayub Bhatti who originally escaped to Thailand. Sadly for Mr Bhatti who held a Masters degree in IT he sought asylum in Thailand but was rejected by an apathetic UNHCR despite compelling evidence. He was forced back to Pakistan in 2014 after which he was traced and captured by Police and is now serving a blasphemy sentence with his brother for an alleged online blasphemy offence. The Masih family started being threatened for hiding Qaiser in their home and life became untenable after a series of threats in 2015.
Whilst incarcerated in the brutal Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in bangkok Mr Masih started to exhibit signs of poor health despite being perfectly healthy before his arrest. He was regularly fatigued, found himself gaining high blood pressure, in regular pain and then on 22nd October 2016, he was rushed to a local hospital after he collapsed to the floor and was unable to upright himself whilst talking in a slurred fashion.
The only silver lining of Mr Maish's poor health was the ability to meet his family and touch them for the first time in months.
It was not good news for Mr Masih, he had suffered a severe stroke and this eventually left him totally paralysed on the left side of his body. Mr Masih was never the same again.
Thai authorities and the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees allegedly refused to pay for his treatment which included a total of 22 days as an inpatient - a few months later a kindly Pastor covered the costs but the failure by the poor family left Thai Authorities with a fatally poor impression of Mr Maish - one that would lead to his death.
The failure by the Thai Authorities and UNHCR to cover ongoing medical treatment meant that a potentially controllable health condition was left to fester. Mr Masih complained about his health condition daily to know avail his requests for treatment were constantly ignored by both the Thai Authorities and UNHCR reducing Mr Maish's quality of life during his last few months.
On the 27th May 2017 whilst the detention centre staff where putting inmates through a physical exercise routine that is extremely arduous, Mr Masih complained about a pain in his chest. Apathetic detainee guards decided Mr Masih was pretending to be in pain to avoid the strenuous workout scheduled for detainees and so they chose to isolate Mr Masih in solitary confinement as a punishment.
Not only did this alarming abuse of power result in Mr Masih being totally traumatised as per witness accounts from several other detainees who all saw Mr Masih visibly in pain. Moreover it exacerbated the condition Mr Masih was in which is now believed to be the early period of a heart attack. Mr Masih had been groaning with the pain he felt and asked for help, but was allegedly completely ignored. Other detainees heard him begging for the IDC staff to save his life, one detainee spoke with wilson Chowdhry during a visit to the IDC on 29th May 2017, he said:
"This was a very distressing time for all of us. We could hear Mr Masih demanding that he be taken to hospital. IDC officer told him to stop pretending and despite his pain and the ignorance of the guards Mr Masih stayed noble and dignified.
"Mr Masih simply asked that he be given a check-up so that he could receive the necessary treatment he required to stay alive. They refused to help for no other reason then the family's inability to pay for treatment.
This whole situation has shocked us all to our core many of us have cried for our lost brother - he suffered so much just so one day he could be free of the daily threat to his life in Pakistan. Now his death has been most undignified he has been treated worse than an animal."
To make matters worse Mr Masih suffered the ignominy of urinating in his clothes whilst in isolation a consequence of his rapidly depleting health that would soon see him dead.
Other inmates were so distressed by what was happening they clubbed together and collected 2000 baht and pleaded with the IDC staff to take Mr Masih to hospital. But despite every effort of his comrades and his obvious discomfort and pain the insouciant staff remained resolute that Mr Masih must be punished.
Eventually after some hours Mr Masih was taken out of Isolation and taken to the communal showers to clean himself from his earlier uncontrolled urination. Whilst in a shower he collapsed and never woke again having suffered what other inmates are describing as a 'complete loss of dignity'.
Instead of calling a paramedic or an ambulance or attempting to resuscitate Mr Masih, IDC staff dragged Mr Masih's body to the communal area where all the inmates are kept and deliberated with one senior officer after the other for an alleged 2 hours before finally receiving the go-ahead to call an ambulance to remove the corpse of Mr Masih and for a post-mortem examination at a local hospital. It was later that the autopsy confirmed that Mr Masih had died of a heart-attack.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, rushed across to meet the grieving widow of Mr Masih a strong determined woman called Shahida. She now faces a world without her husband which is extremely difficult when raised in a strongly patriarchal culture. Mr Masih's children have found it hard to cope with the loss of their father, who was kept away from them under extremely harsh conditions for the last few months of his existence.
Joel (11 years), Shahida (33 years), Smittha (18 months) and Angel (8 years)
Whilst with the family Wilson called the UNHCR 24 hour hotline who expressed their great sorrow at the death of Mr Masih. They have agreed to meet with several family members and Mr Chowdhry at the UNHCR head office on 29th May, but later reneged on the promise. However a call was received by Mr Chowdhry confirming that on receipt of a Letter of Authority for Disclosure Mr chowdhry could apply for a grant of 5000 baht from a funeral fund and a further 3000 baht to assist Shahida and her children. The Senior Protection Officer however advised that usually these funds are only given to those with refugee status meaning that the chance of success is limited.
Mr Chowdhry has given a small donation of around £150 to the family to help them with basic necessities, whilst they come to terms with their loss. However Shahida now has three children to care for and as a full-time mother cannot find employment.
The family have to arrange for Mr Masih's body to be flown back to Pakistan, they refuse to bury in Thailand: 'a land full of hate and a place where we have been despised' said Shahida.
Shahida explained to the BPCa that she was notified by her husbands impending death through a call he made via a mobile phone, which we believe has been smuggled into the IDC through a bribe to officials. She said:
"At around 12pm [27th May] I received a call from Ijaz he was very distressed and crying. He spoke with my children and I and reassured us telling us to trust in God for our futures - He is the Great Provider Ijaz said.
"he told us he was in extreme pain and that he was being ignored by officials he told me this might be the last time he ever spoke to us, but that he would constantly pray for us when in heaven.
"I told him not to panic, that my friends, his children and I would be praying for him. That God would heal him. We all cried together and he said he would call me again the next morning if things got better.
"He never called back."
Shahida explained to us that the following day at around 12:30 when Mr Masih never called she feared the worse. She asked her brother in law to call a UNHCR operative via their 24 hour hotline. Nadeem Gill then asked the UNHCR officer to call the IDC to find out if Mr Masih was in good health due to the alarming call she had received. The operative duly conducted the call and called back five minutes later explaining that he had been advised that a roll call was taking place and that as soon as that was completed he would know about Masih.
When the UNHCR officer called back an hour later Nadeem was advised that Ijaz had died the night before.
15 separate detainees have advised Mr Chowdhry that Mr Masih died at around 4.30 pm. However in the usual cover up expected in these situations Thai Officials have told the UNHCR that Mr Masih later at hospital despite several eyewitnesses who saw the dead corpse of Masih.
Mr Chowdhry, spoke with the Pakistan Embassy to meet with officials regarding permission for return of his body to Pakistan and any help they can offer towards the cost of the flight. Officially he is still a citizen of Pakistan and a hardship fund does exist for transfer of corpses in this fashion. The Embassy have agreed to help on supply of relevant documents for the body to be transferred to Pakistan. They will not offer any hardship funds to Shahida or her children.
"Mr Chowdhry, said:
"This story is one of great tragedy on a number of fronts.
"The failure by Thai authorities to protect the life of Mr Masih despite clear evidence of a health concern, exhibits a callous low value placed on the life of asylum seekers.
"Secondly the fact that asylum seekers escaping persecution in Pakistan have to fear re-persecution in an alleged peaceful nation such as Thailand is utterly deplorable - especially considering both nations have signed UN Conventions for Human rights and protecting against torture.
"Thirdly UNHCR's failure to protect a man fleeing the draconian blasphemy law of Pakistan, caused his imprisonment (potentially for life) and led to this death of an innocent, extremely frightened and beleaguered young father as well as the dishevelment of countless others.
"Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for Shahida and her children. Once again NGO's will have to fill a gaping chasm for victims such as these whose plight is ignored by statutory bodies of several nations and none, that seem to operate counter to the needs of those they were created to serve and protect.
"One can only imagine the terror and dismay that Mr Masih faced when the Thai Authorities and UNHCR ignored his impending death.
"However blame for Mr Masih's death should be shared by the Pakistan authorities whose negligence and poor governance has led to great intolerance for the minorities living there.
"The family fear if they do not get asylum they are likely to be arrested for harbouring a fugitive due to public pressure in Pakistan. With UNHCR dithering over providing asylum this remains a very possible danger, adding to fear, frustration and pain the family are suffering."
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British Pakistani Christian Association have opened an appeal to support the family, if you would like to help with the cost of a flight for the body of Mr Masih, or to help with the daily living expenses of the vulnerable dependents he has left behind, please donate by (clicking here)