The European Court of Justice has ruled that people who are persecuted in their home countries for religious reasons have a right to apply for asylum in Europe. If their personal rights are "gravely" infringed, they must be awarded asylum status - affirming the ruling of a German court.
This ruling is expected to have an influence on German asylum law. The BPCA believes this will also impact on UK Asylum Law, where it has traditionally proven extremely difficult to obtain asylum for Christian's fleeing Pakistan.
Judges confirmed that it would make no difference if the persecuted claimants were being prevented from practising their religion in Public or entirely. The important factor would be how serious any consequences for a worshipper would be, for simply conducting the normal precepts of their faith.
The case started in 2003 when two Pakistani worshippers from the Ahamaddiya sect fled Pakistan, as they were being persecuted for being adherents to their faith. Originally, their asylum case was dismissed by German border agency, however on appeal a court in Leipzig concluded that Asylum should be granted and referred the case to the European Court of Justice. In their ruling Wednesday 5th September 2012, the judges presiding over this case rejected the argument that practitioners of a persecuted faith could say prayers and worship behind closed doors out of sight and mind.
Wilson Chowdhry of the BPCA commented;
"This judgement is a triumph for minorities in Pakistan and other persecuted nations. Only last year a church in Lahore was forced to sign a local contract agreeing not to worship at certain times and the parishioners had to agree not to speak of the Christian faith in public - the discussion that led to the agreement were officiated by local police. Churches across Pakistan are facing similar threats and this news will no doubt bring some hope to frightened communities."
Only last week the BPCA questioned the UK Foreign Office on their stance regarding providing Asylum to Rimsha Masih in the UK. The official response received is detailed below:
The UN Convention on Refugees applies only to those who are outside their country of origin and the British Government would only consider an asylum application from someone who is actually in the UK. The Head of Asylum Policy in the Home Office has explained that we are not therefore in a position to grant asylum to someone who is still in their own country. And as a matter of policy (and in common with most other countries and in accordance with EU law) we do not grant asylum to people who are not already in the UK.
The only real exception to that is the ‘Gateway’ programme which the Government runs with UNCR where it identifies groups of refugees in situations of longstanding displacement from their own country and we agree an annual quota (750 a year at the moment). But Rimsha Masih and her family would not fall into this category.
More information about asylum policy and how to claim asylum is given on the UKBA website at http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/asylum/