New York: Pakistani Christians and their supporters demonstrated outside the United Nations headquarters here Tuesday asking for the protection of minorities in Pakistan and help for hundreds of Christian asylum-seekers from that country detained in Thailand.
At the protest that comes in the wake of the Easter bombing by the Pakistani Taliban directed against Christians in Lahore, an organiser, Tariq Javed, said that the community was under constant threat in Pakistan, both from the government through measures like the anti-blasphemy laws and from terrorist organisations and extremist politicians. The Lahore bombing was only the latest in a series of attacks on Christians and their places of worship, he said.
Javed, who is the president of the International Community Care Foundation, said the UN and the United States should work to end the persecution of Christians in Pakistan. Islamabad should be made to "take measures to provide security and protection to Christians in the light of recent terrorist attacks and continual religious persecution," he said.
He said that of about 4,000 Pakistani Christians who fled to Thailand, about 500 have been put in detention centers with illegal immigrants under harrowing conditions and not treated as asylum-seekers. Eleven of them have died so far in detention, he added.
Pakistani Christians are unable to get asylum in Thailand because that nation has not signed the Refugee Convention and has no formal framework for asylum. Javed appealed to the UN and its High Commissioner for Refugees to intervene to have those in detention released and arrange for their resettlement elsewhere.
Wilson Chowdhury, the chairperson of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said that if Thailand returned the asylum-seekers to Pakistan they would face persecution from the government and violent retribution from extremists. The anti-blasphemy were being used as a legal guise to attack Christians and to even settle private scores.
A problem the Pakistani Christians fleeing persecution in their homeland faced was that Britain defined their status as facing "severe discrimination" rather than "persecution" and this made it difficult for them to get asylum, Chowdhury said. Many European countries deferred to Britain on this and his organisation was working to change this, he added.
About 50 people, including non-Pakistani Americans, were at the protest.
Hubert George, the chairman of Hope for Persecuted Christians, said that they were also appealing to Washington to provide asylum to the Pakistani Christians stranded in Thailand.