ON THE second anniversary of the double suicide-bombings at All Saints’, in Peshawar, in which at least 100 people were killed (News, 4 October 2013), the British Government has been urged to recognise the dangers that Christians face in Pakistan when considering asylum claims.
The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) has issued a statement calling on the UK to update Home Office policy on the plight of Christians in Pakistan. Currently, the Government considers Pakistani Christians to be discriminated against, but not persecuted.
In the statement, released on the second anniversary of the Peshawar atrocity on Tuesday, the chairman of the BPCA, Wilson Chowdhry, said: “Today’s date will always be remembered for the pain and loss it resonates with. However, we hope to use that suffering to melt hearts and establish a more appropriate risk-profile for Pakistani Christians.
“If Britain makes the right decision, the thousands of Pakistani Christians who are seeing delays of up to ten years for resettlement, from nations such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, may finally see their applications expedited.”
The current guidance from the Home Office, last updated in February, states that “Christians in Pakistan are a religious minority who, in general, suffer discrimination, but this is not sufficient to amount to a real risk of persecution.”
It goes on to suggest that Pakistani Christians are able to practise their faith, attend church, and have their own schools and hospitals, and that the authorities are willing and able to protect Christians from threats against them.
The BPCA, however, believes this to underestimate the gravity of the situation. Their statement cites research from a Pakistani human-rights NGO, Movement of Solidarity and Peace, which estimates that between 100 and 700 Christian girls are kidnapped and forced into Islamic marriage every year.
They also say that 15 per cent of blasphemy charges are laid against Christians, despite the minority only making up 1.6 per cent of the total population. The Home Office guidance suggests that 182 Christians have been accused of blasphemy between 1987 and 2014.
A BPCA researcher, Nathanael Lewis, said that the numbers of Pakistani Christians’ being granted asylum was dropping, even as persecution in Pakistan increased.
“A quick analysis reveals that for 2012 and 2013 about 50 per cent ended up being given leave to remain, but in 2014 this dropped to 40 per cent, and this year so far it has plummeted to less than 20 per cent. If that isn’t some kind of statistical anomaly, or because ap-peals are ongoing, then this is deeply concerning.”
The Sunday Times reported of a case last weekend where a Christian from Pakistan who had been refused asylum in 2013 had successfully overturned that decision in the High Court.
The man and his family sought refuge in Britain in 2012, saying that, after an accusation of blasphemy, their lives were at risk from religiously inspired persecution. After deportation in 2013, when his request for asylum was denied, the man initiated a legal challenge, which has now been successful. Visas were issued for the family last week.
The BPCA is now organising a campaign to lobby the Government to recategorise Pakistan as a country in which Christians are widely persecuted, and to look more favourably on asylum applications from Pakistani Christians.