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Family treks across dangerous terrain of Iran guided by tribal mercenaries to escape persecution in Pakistan


BPCA friend Sevan Peter Balci an Armenian Christian with Kenneth Kamran and family.

A family consisting of five people trekked across the arid plains of Iraq by nightfall during the most terrifying night of their lives, in their pursuit of safety from persecution in Pakistan.

The family who now reside in Istanbul, Turkey spoke of the terror they felt after they were forced to place their trust in unknown tribal mercenaries, who often spoke harshly with them as they traversed across extremely difficult and dangerous terrain.

Kenneth Kamran (42 yrs), his sister Nosheen (38 yrs), her two daughters Yarusha (12 yrs) and Anusha (8 yrs) and Kenneth's Mother Tereeza Bibi (68 yrs), decided to escape Pakistan after the ex-husband of Nosheen converted to Islam.

Kamran Kamran family were originally from a small town of Sialkot called Christian town. In 2001 Kenneth went to Singapore where he worked as a volunteer in a charity. In his absence, her sister Nosheen fell in love with a Christian man Irfan Masih of the same age as her.  Both sets of parents consented to a marriage which took place in 2003 whilst Kenneth was working out is Singapore.

After getting married Nosheen travelled to Quetta with her in-laws to begin her new life. The couple lived in Quetta from 2003 to 2008. but in 2009 were forced to move to Lahore as clashes between the Punjabi and Balochi community in Quetta put their lives and those of their two children in real danger.

In Lahore Irfan Masih made completely new friendships many of whom were Muslim who started sharing Islamic teachings with him. Though Nosheen was not aware of it at the time she did notice a change in her husbands behaviour.

Soon Irfan Masih started beating Nosheen extremely violently over the smallest of matters.  Worse still he also beat his daughters with equal ferocity.

One day Nosheen noticed that Irfan was receiving a lot of calls on his mobile from an unknown woman. When she asked who the caller was she was told it was a work colleague. Due to the frequency and times of the calls Nosheen asked if Irfan was having an affair which he denied. He later married the same Muslim woman.

Irfan's violent behaviour continued and worsened one day Nosheen and the children were hurt so bad, Nosheen fled her marital home and ran to her paternal home in Sialkot.

Nosheen's family decided that Nosheen parents would talk with Irfan Masih and would not involve Kenneth as he was prone to anger. However, Kenneth called Irfan and demanded he stop the violence and care for his family more diligently.

The outburst resulted in Kenneth receiving abuse from Irfan who days later sent divorce papers to Nosheen, stating she was of bad character - a baseless accusation.  He also filed a  claim for custody of his daughters but lost the case due to the vulnerable young ages of the daughters - Irfan filed an appeal.

During the court case Nosheen and the family were alarmed at the change in appearance of Irfan who had grown a beard and was attired in Islamic clothing. This was how they discovered Irfan had converted to Islam.  At all court hearings he was supported by three Muslim clerics and they and Irfan continually harassed and threatened Nosheen and her family at the courts, through texts and phone calls.

In 2010 Nosheen joined Convent School in Sialkot as a teacher where both her daughters attended.  She wanted to give her daughters the best life possible she told BPCA.

In 2011 Nosheen's father died she believes his health worsened after her divorce after he fell into a deep depression.

Kenneth became the patriarch for his family and vowed to fight on for his sister and found work in Lahore as a frontline manager, he supported his family in Sialkot and paid for the legal advocates required by Nosheen. 

In 2012 the family received a positive decision through the courts when they quashed the appeal for custody of the Nosheen's daughters.  The family had a momentary time of joy.

Due to the violence meted out on Nosheen and her daughters Irfan was given no access to the children till they reach their teenage years. So Irfan and his cohorts waged a two year campaign of threats by telephone, email and texts (often changing numbers), but the family remained steadfast and resolute trusting in God.

When Irfan realized his actions were having no effect he changed his tactics and visited the Sialkot home of Nosheen with two Islamic clerics and several police officers.  Kenneth was still in Lahore working at the hotel and the policemen asked where he was without giving a reason for their visit.  The frightened mother told the men that she did not know where he was.  The police officers left after searching their property but demanded that Tereeza send Kenneth to Civil Lines Police Station in Sialkot when he returns.  The policemen travelled to the homes of neighbours who did not divulge anything about the whereabouts of Kenneth.

Kenneth called his mother later in the day and she told him what had happened. On the behest of Kenneth, Tereeza asked Revd Izhaq of the Presbyterian Church in Sialkot to enquire from Civil Line Police Station why they were searching for Kenneth.  When Revd Izhaq visited the Police he was dismayed to hear that a charge of blasphemy had been registered against Kenneth for burning pages of the Quran.

Alarmed and worried for Kenneth, Reverend Izhaq advised Kenneth's family to leave their house immediately and travel to Lahore to be with Kenneth. The family left their home at 11:30pm in a private car arranged by the church and they reached Lahore early in the morning.

In Lahore Kenneth has asked a wealthy friend (name known to BPCA) to help his family who kindly arranged food and accommodation for them. The friend helped the family with food and accommodation. The family then asked a cousin to sell every possession they had, including their gold jewellry and furniture which they used to pay off outstanding rent.  Surplus money was put into a bank account. 

They stayed two months in Lahore then their friend (name known by BPCA) sent them to a friend in Karachi who provide free board and food. 

One day Nosheen re-inserted her old sim card in her mobile phone to see what activity she had missed.  She was shocked and appalled  by hundreds of hateful messages and threats. One of Irfan's messages said:  

"We will not leave any of you alive. Just wait and see what we will do to all of you when we catch you."

Irfan declared his loyalty to fundamentalist group Dar-ul- Islam which abide by a very radical Islamic ideology.

When the father of their benefactor in Karachi discovered the content of the texts he became insecure about the safety of his own family.  Together they all decided to get Kenneth and his family out of Pakistan.

After some time the benefactors helped the family make new ID cards and apply for passports. They also contacted a specialist travel agent who help families get 1 month tourist visas to Iran.

The benefactors also helped kenneth's family covered the difference between the savings Kenneth and the cost of flights and visas.  Ensuring the family had some money to help them survive in Iran. 

The travel agents taught Kenneth's family what to say to Iranian Immigration and explained that if asked why they were travelling to Iran the family should say they are visiting a place called Isfahan on pilgrimage.  This is an area of ancient churches and historic Christian places.

They got through Immigration but could find no cheap hotels they spent a comfortable wallet-crunching night at Mehman Pazeer a luxury hotel in Kucha Marvi.

The next day however Kenneth and his family found a Church named St. Joseph Church which was a Presbytarian Church. They requested to meet the Church Pastor but they were asked to come on Sunday which was the next day. They went back on Sunday and were met by Rev Benjamin.

Rev Benjamin seemed uncomfortable with helping and sent them to another presbyterian church.  However they got lost trying to find it and stumbled into a Catholic Church. Father Franco Peirce who served there showed great compassion. he organised a call from his moderator to Revs Izhaq in Pakistan who confirmed the story was true. Father Franco told the family he would help by taking them to the UNHCR the next day.

On their journey back home Kenneth and his family met some Pakistani boys who were selling sunglasses. They told the family of a cheaper home and they moved there and out of the expensive hotel.

The next day Father Franco,  Father Paul and Father Emmanuel took Kenneth's family to UNCHR. The UNHCR took some details and told the family they would be called for an interview.  Father Franco took them back home and agreed with the landlord to pay the families rent recognising their extreme poverty.    

The UNCHR called them for an interview a few weeks later.  The family submitted all the necessary document and were interviewed for half an hour each. At the end of the interview however, the family alleges they were told quite bizarrely that they could not help as their priority was asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

Kenneth alleges he remonstrated with the UNHCR officers and asked why they put them through all the administrative process, just to be told no help would be forthcoming.  He states that UNHCR responded by telling him to go to Turkey were help would be more forthcoming.

When Father Franco heard this, he was very upset as he realised it would be difficult for the family to escape to Turkey. Some local people however connected the family with a Pakistani man named Agha Haider involved in an illegal border-crossing racket. With no option open to him and with a strong desire to help Father Franco met Mr Haider and agreed a very expensive fee of $1100 for the transfer of each member of Kenneth's family a total of $5500.

Father Franco paid a deposit and agreed to pay the full amount after the family had reached safely across.

On agreed date and time  Agha Haider came to take the family to Turkey.  The travel was by Road and after an arduous 14 hour drive they reached a place called Mocha. 

Agha Haider asked the family to stay at mocha for one month as there were elections going on in Turkey and security was tight at the borders.  The family lived in a shack with over 60 other asylum seekers from many different nations.  

When they left again they left by foot at the dead of night on what they state is the most frightening night of their life. Arusha was only six at the time and found the long walk till the early hours a real effort. Fortunately for her other families were also travelling and when she was tired different men carried her on their shoulders. The elderly mother of kenneth and another older woman were told to sit in the back of a lorry and were separated from others in the group a process that left Kenneth and the others in despair for her safety.

Kenneth recalled the terrifying situation he was in, he said:

"We cried ourselves to sleep the night before the journey. It was a worrying time when we had no idea whether my mother would be safe, moreover Nosheen and kenneth I had to care for two young children.

We had no choice but to place our complete trust in strange tribal men from Iran who were guiding us. It was a very low point in our lives."

The night time travelling was very frightening and obviously there were no toilets for the two elderly women in the lorry who had to use buckets.  The foot walkers sometimes travelling on their knees on rough terrain to avoid being seen.  At times they would be told to stop and lay with their faces on the ground when a patrol vehicle passed by.

The next morning the family arrived at their final destination in Turkey having circumvented the land border between Iran and Turkey and they had to enter into waiting cars and were united with Tereeza.  They made contact with Father Nichola John a contact of Father Franco who helped them get to the UNHCR where they registered their asylum application.

Now the family is living in a home paid for by Father Nichola, who has also hired Nosheen as an English Teacher at his School for Refugees.  Yarusha and Anusha are also attending the school and their life has become more stable.

Their case is being reviewed by UNHCR extremely slowly but the family have received refugee papers in Turkey that allow them to work legally.  Sadly for Kenneth he has not yet been able to find employment due to the bad economy of Turkey.  

Wilson Chowdhry prays with Kenneth and his family

The family have asked us for a small donation of £70 per month to help them with the monthly travel to UNHCR Ankara required for renewing their asylum registration.  This family have been through dangers many of us will never face and are stronger for it. We would like to help them with a small gesture of love and have initiated an appeal for the £70 per month.  If you feel inclined to donate please (click here)

BPCA gave £200 to the family while our Chairman Wilson Chowdhry visited. He also introduced them to a wonderful Armenian Christian named Sevan Peter Balci who has offered to try and find some help with finding work for the family. But he has said it will be very difficult due to prejudices and the poor economy in Turkey.  Sevan explained that discrimination still exists and persecution of minorities in parts of Turkey outside the cities.  I was wearing a cross that I bought in Greece whilst meeting asylum seekers there and was asked by Sevan to hide it whilst on the streets.  Yarusha and Anusha also shared a story of being stared at in shop because they were wearing crosses the shopkeeper refused to take money from their hands and asked them to put it on the counter, which illustrates that Turkey is not as secular as often as perceived.  Please pray for this family.

Wilson Chowdhry visited an Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Church and Pentecostal Church in a Christian area of Istanbul with Sevan.

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