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Renowned parliamentarians and human rights activists challenged British politicians to alter their policy towards Pakistani Christian asylum seekers and introduce more robust accountability measure for UK Foreign aid of which Pakistan is the largest recipient. The challenge was registered at a UK Parliament launch of British Pakistani Christian Association's latest book detailing grave human rights abuses of minorities in Pakistan.
To combat the ongoing escalation of religious persecution in Pakistan, the British Pakistani Christian Association has launched the latest edition of its scholarly report which aims to highlight the grave human rights violations which characterise the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the country.
The event was initially chaired by Jim Shannon MP who is the Chairman for the All Parliamentary Party Group for Pakistani Minorities. Mr Shannon commenced the proceedings by drawing attention to the fact ‘early intervention can save lives for those accused of blasphemy’ in particular he called for stronger focus on the thousands of Pakistani asylum seekers in Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, many of who find themselves re-persecuted in nations that have not signed UN convention for asylum. He also spoke of the immense persecution of minorities in Pakistan that he believes has been incorrectly labelled as severely discriminated a tag that has resulted in numerous failed Pakistani Christian asylum seekers. He said: "A change in policy would result in more favourable assessment of Pakistani Christian asylum applications every effort has to be made to alter the existing position."
The book’s author, Desmond Fernandes, took the opportunity to first highlight the success of the report. He pointed out that the ‘The aim of the updated third edition of this book has been to stimulate debate and action from concerned members of the public, parliamentarians worldwide, the UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact (which is being presented with this book), several European rights organisations, the UK Commons Select Committee/International Development Committee (where this is being presented as a formal submission to its ongoing Inquiry examining the effectiveness or otherwise of the Department for International Development's international educational aid programmes), public interest and community and non-government organisations, lawyers, academics, educationalists, investigative journalists, refugee and asylum and linguistic rights campaigners, faith and non-faith groups and students.'
Wilson Chowdhry delivered early copies of the book to Australian Senators, MPs and ministers to change their position with regards to Pakistani Christian asylum seekers’. However, the author was not happy with the positions of the Uk Home Office on providing asylum for those in danger citing that ‘they had moved’ but ‘not significantly enough’ and as such the Home Office guidance for asylum cases was ‘dangerously flawed’. Drawing on data to support this claim, he made the example of only one Yazidi family having been allowed asylum in the UK and that this was ‘representative’ of a wider problem; out of 2992 Pakistani requests for UK asylum only 16 had been granted in 2015-16. Moreover, ‘the rejection rate for Pakistani asylum seekers is much worse in the rest of Europe: 90% in 2016. He called for end to arms sales to Pakistan pointing to the persecution of Baluch and Christian minorities. Lastly, ‘in Greece the asylum rate is only 2%’ with some cases showing Pakistani migrants are kept separate from other asylum seekers and blocked from even applying. It was worrying people from Pakistan and Afghanistan are ‘seen as economic migrants and therefore undeserving’. Read Desmond Fernandes full speech (click here)
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, took over as Chairperson for the meeting after Jim Shannon left the meeting. He spoke of a growing relationship forged with officers of the Home Office that had led to minor changes to UK policy towards Pakistani Christians. BPCA had been involved in a private discussion with officers at the Home Office headquarters and submitted several reports including reports written by Desmond Fernandes. These discussions had led to a small improvement in the risk profile of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers, but way below the recommendations of the BPCA. Wilson spoke of a new training programme that had been adopted by the Home office for interviewers of Christian asylum seekers, that now allows for a more spiritual review of a Christian's beliefs, rather then trivia based questioning that had culminated in failed applications due to a flawed assessment. The current training programme is being reviewed by the BPCA and further suggestions will be forwarded to the key officer responsible for promulgating the training. Wilson also read out a letter of support from Senator Abetz of Australia a copy of which can be read below:
David Alton, Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and an original founder of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or belief, pointed to £1Billion in two years of British aid to Pakistan, ‘not a single penny of which has been used in any fashion to promote Human Rights ‘Article 18’ or protect minorities’. He believed that despite abundant amounts in aid, Pakistan is still not ‘functioning or thriving’ because ‘loss of freedoms has a correlation with economic degradation’. He went on to notify attendees that he had ‘convened hearings from all minorities from Pakistan in Portcullis house last year’ having visited detention centres in that country. Shocking conditions in these areas were found and ‘we took secret cameras in for an expose on the conditions there. In cases of Islamists attacking Christians who refused to convert, reporting to police led, shockingly, to the police informing the Islamists of who had informed on them. He closed his remarks by stressing the importance of ‘Article 18, the article which preserves freedoms of religion. It is crucial to change the government’s position from ‘Discrimination’ to ‘Persecution’. He stressed this had to manifest itself in ‘textbooks in Pakistani Schools’ as this was an ‘important aspect of promoting tolerance and religious freedom’. Citing the example of Asad Shah’s murder in the UK, he pointed out that these issues were not confined to Pakistan: ‘we have to act in Pakistan if we want to help us at home’.
Margaret Owen OBE added to these remarks by stressing the plight of women and the discrimination of minorities being an international struggle: ‘The threat we face is not isolated to Pakistan, it is a cancer around the world. The case of women in Pakistan is also a dire one, with direct contravention of treaties: use of so-called ‘honour’ killings, child marriages, acid attacks, are all prolific. Highlighting the plight of women, she added: ‘Women are the frontline target of ethnic and religious minorities’. Overall, she stressed the importance of fighting religious discrimination, ‘I find it shameful and scandalous of the silence of the international community’ stressing that the West and its allies could do much more in aiding minorities: ‘In Turkey today the persecution of Kurds is continuous whereas the Kurdish people’s grouping looks to create a country founded on equality of genders and freedom of religion. We in the West are the Poodle of Turkey, of Saudi Arabia and of Pakistan. There is a ‘genocide’ taking place under ISIS. The Kurdish women’s organisations are working very hard. The Turkish state in its persecution of the Kurds and their leaders denies them basic legal rights like access to a lawyer. The EU, UK and US do not recognise Rojava, they Rojava however, are not separatists- what they want in Syria and in Turkey is freedom of belief. Turkey fears recognition of the Kurds greatly who have a right to self-determination’. She finished her remarks by commenting on what work was being done to solve these issues stating, ‘we are working on a new convention against violence towards women, the CEDOR does not do the job. We have no issue condemning genocide by ISIS but not by a government. We have much empirical evidence of Turkey’s involvement in persecution. I’d like to be proud of the UK’.
Saleh Memon of the Campaign against Criminalising Communities, brought attention to the lack of UK government scrutiny on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws: ‘Has the British government done anything about blasphemy laws? Has it challenged them? If we claim to have an ethical foreign policy then surely it should be condemned. It seems to me they haven’t taken a stand on that. Given all the evidence in the book it is concerning that the FCO does not recognise the systematic persecution of Christians in Pakistan. It seems there is a deliberate policy of ignoring asylum claims. Our governments do not consider the Geneva Conventions to be important, they don’t abide by the treatment for refugees -therefore the Pakistani Government can disregard them as well’. He spoke about the dire state of education in Pakistan and its lack of secular orientation too citing that textbooks being used in madrassas reflected the ‘Wahabi ideology of Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani government is focused on low-cost private education instead of a universal state education’, which he believed had led to this problem.
Ranbir Singh, Chair of Hindu Human Rights Group, could not make the meeting, his written speech was read out by Frederick Molesworth: