Recently murdered Christian from asylum seekers neighbourhood
BPCA wishes to highlight yet another case where we consider the UKBA to have reached an unfair decision to reject an asylum claim of a Pakistani Christian family who have fled religious persecution and threats. The case is that of Mrs DZ (name not allowed to be published due to legal reasons) and her family (husband and teenage son) who come from Karachi. Her husband, an electrical engineer / teacher, also did evangelistic work by manning a stall selling Christian books and pamphlets.
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By way of background, Karachi is one of the most lawless cities in Pakistan, with multiple murders and political violence by various factions. One violent Islamist group that operates there is Sunni Tehreek. To give you some background, the Drigh Road area where Mrs DZ and her family attended church was once prominently Catholic but once the nearby Karachi international airport expanded, property prices rose such that they became commercially attractive and Muslim mafias continuously threatened and threw out the poor Catholic inhabitants to gain the properties, forcing them to take a pittance for their homes. In August 2011 Islamic militants shot dead a Christian man there, Arnold Archibald Dass, quite possibly due to the location of his property. One such violent Islamist group that operates in Karachi is Sunni Tehreek.
In 2009 Mrs DZ’s husband led two of those militants to Christ, and they were baptised in late November 2009. The baptisms did not go down well with Sunni Tehreek, of course, and the local secretary investigated and found that Mrs DZ’s husband was responsible for their conversion. Just before Christmas 2009 a number of Sunni Tehreek militants came and tore up and desecrated a number of holy books in the stall, beat Mrs DZ’s husband and threatened to kidnap his son and wife if he did not stop his evangelizing. After consulting the local priest, a couple of days later he went to report the incident to the police (something that Christians are reluctant to do, due to the propensity of the police to deal harshly with Christian victims and even accuse and arrest them). Shortly after Christmas, the husband went to the police station to ask for protection, but he was arrested instead. The reason was that the local Sunni Tehreek secretary had claimed the victim had gained forced entry to his house, pulled out a pistol and threatened and injured him and beat up his children. The police demanded a sizeable bribe for his release, which Mrs DZ was able to pay by using up all her savings and borrowing money from relatives. After his release, the authorities told her husband to flee the area or else he would be arrested again. A few days later, the family did so, spending some months with relatives in various cities in Pakistan, but, without their support network in Karachi and given they were in hiding, they had no means to support themselves, especially given they had used savings to pay the police bribe.
Mrs DZ has a sister in the UK who’s son was getting married, and the family had already applied for a visit Visa to come to the UK. However, due to their suddenly straitened circumstances, it took them a long while to raise the cash needed and in addition, their original visa application was rejected, although they won an appeal on the issue. In the meantime, her husband had to go back to Karachi several times to sort out paperwork and other affairs. In his brief time there, he was accosted by militants and told to leave or else he was killed. Also neighbours told the family that people had been prowling around the house looking for the husband. The family had not told her sister that their lives were in danger, but did so a few days after finally arriving (in early 2011), and her sister and brother-in-law (a church minister) advised them to seek legal advice which they did, going on to make a claim for asylum.
The original claim was rejected, for various reasons whereby Mrs DZ’s credibility was called into question (in other words, they thought she was lying). By the way, we refer to Mrs DZ more than her husband because she was the primary claimant, although she was not the primary victim. Part of the reason was that her husband was quite seriously ill. This was one of the reasons given later on for turning down the families application – the husband was sitting at the back at the hearing and never said anything, but right from the start it was Mrs DZ who was the primary interviewee who is chiefly mentioned in all the documents. Another reason was that they didn’t enter the UK until four months after the visa was granted (although as we have seen, having used up savings to bribe police might have something to do with that....). Another reason was that Mrs DZ, (who also has some quite significant health problems), when recounting the threats against her husband, stated in her interview that her memory was hazy as to dates and couldn’t remember the year. The substance doesn’t matter, just the date, to the UKBA, and the irony is, she was going from memory and was condemned for not remembering the year, but the UKBA official rejection letter (who had all the official documentation wrong) repeatedly wrote wrong dates at just this very section of the rejection letter! Duh! The rejection decision repeatedly refers to this error in dates as a basis for rejecting each part of their central case, even though Mrs DZ had clearly said in the initial interviews that she may have mixed up the year, but clearly stated when it had happened in relative time. It seems that quite often UKBA deems peoples credibility to be suspect when actually it is the UKBA’s credibility in correctly recording factual information that is suspect.
Another rejection reason was that supporting translated affidavits by members of their church (including the priest, Father Joseph) contained exactly the same wording as each other, simply stating that Mrs DZ’s husband had witnessed to Muslims and that his life was in danger if he returned from abroad. However they were dated April 2010, 10 months before the family arrived in the UK. It was however, shortly after they launched their ultimately successful appeal against the visa decision. Mrs DZ says that she had thought it wise to get something from the church committee members to support her story, and that they are all good people of integrity who would not lie – one of them is the priest of their local parish church. Her brother in law supplied arranged for the affidavits to be made and sent them on when the family arrived in the UK.
Also the fact that they claimed asylum shortly before their visa was due to expire was considered suspicious.
The family appealed the decision which was rejected. Even though at one point the correction about dates was accepted, the appeal decision still claimed their credibility was undermined because her husband returned to Karachi to sort out paperwork for escaping the country. The UKBA further claimed that the fact that the family could fly out of Pakistan unimpeded showed that the arrest warrant could not have been genuine – a rather ridiculous claim which they have made in another recent case – and shows a touching faith in the integrity of the Pakistani border control system. Perhaps UKBA should take tips, if they think Pakistan’s border controls are so robust! After all, the UKBA has lost track of at least 400,000 entrants to the UK by its own admission. It might mean that they can stop letting in banned terrorists and fulfil the Home Secretary’s orders, instead of throwing out victims of persecution. Besides, Pakistan is quite happy to see non-Muslims leave the country. In addition, the UKBA repeated its usual mantra that it is really only converts that are at risk, not those born and raised Christians, but quite frankly, given the litany of attacks we and other groups document on those born Christians, this line is getting rather tired, even if it is true that converts are in more danger. And if converts are in danger, how much more so those who convert them?
Another reason was that a letter and an email they supplied from a court official / advocate in Pakistan about the charges and that said Muslims were angry and that they should not come back from Pakistan, was deemed suspect. Apart from the poor English, the letter head gave as the advocates contact email a yahoo email address. The solicitor claims that it should have been an official government email address. While we cannot comment directly on this particular evidence, the BPCA would like to note that it has had email correspondence in the past from a quite senior Pakistani official who has chosen not to use their official government email but rather their personal email address while conducting their business.
Unfortunately, the appeal was rejected. Some reasons were quite ridiculous. Because her husband gave his trade as electrical instructor, the appeal-decider claims it was not credible that he also sold religious books. This was despite the fact that in his original interview he mentioned his work for the church, including being an instructor for the YMCA. Hello? Can people not have more than one job or role. How many UK citizens have very different jobs. What a great reason for rejecting an asylum claim. It also states ‘there is no independent evidence to support... the claim that he was involved in converting Muslims to Christianity’. No independent evidence except the sworn affidavits of three church members, including the priest, but as we have seen before the UKBA is adept at dismissing evidence it doesn’t like and then claiming ‘there is no independent evidence’. There were stronger (but wrong) reasons for the rejection of the appeal. They noted that the arrest warrant provided had no reason, just a reference to an earlier FIR which the court did not have. Therefore the court claimed that the threats by Sunni Tehreek never happened, and that the husband had not gone to the police for protection and failed to receive it. The conclusion was that the family invented the incident to try and get into the UK, and that they had not been persecuted in past and that they had no future fear of persecution if they return (again by rejecting the evidence and then saying that ‘there is no evidence’). For those of us aware of the situation in Karachi, this is laughable. BPCA knows of a number of (born) Christians who are under grave threat in Karachi for continuing Christian activities. At least one senior Christian cleric in Karachi has seriously thought about claiming asylum in the UK in recent months after death threats against him and his family, but has bravely decided to continue his work for God’s kingdom.
However, there was a problem with the rejection of the arrest warrant evidence. Firstly, an FIR can count as an arrest warrant, (so a warrant referring to an FIR as a reason is quite acceptable), but also the court should have had the original FIR. Mrs DZ had submitted it to her solicitor, and been repeatedly reassured that it had been sent as evidence to the court. Mrs DZ later found out that instead the solicitor had not done so, but closed her file and then gone on maternity leave. Mrs DZ believes that this was a deliberate act to spoil her claim as the solicitor was a Muslim and was a continuation of the Islamic persecution she was seeking asylum from. The solicitors claimed that they did not submit it because they only had a translation, and thought it would undermine her case. The letter and an email from a lawyer in Pakistan that accompanied the copies of the FIR were deemed suspect. Apart from the poor English, the letter head gave as the advocates contact email a yahoo email address. The solicitor claims that it should have been an official email address. While we cannot comment directly on this particular argument, the BPCA would like to note that it has had email correspondence in the past from a quite senior Pakistani official who has chosen not to use their official government email but rather their personal email address while conducting their business.
The BPCA has seen both copies of both original FIR’s, and the translations. We don’t see any particular reason why they cannot be genuine, although the UKBA does claim that many supporting documents are forged or the result of people instigating criminal investigations against themselves.
See more in Part 2