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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

UKBA rejects again - part 1 : How to spin down persecution of Pakistani Christians

No room at the Inn for persecuted Christians..

BPCA is dealing with yet another case where the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has used extremely spurious reasoning to deny a Pakistani Christian’s claim to asylum and refugee status in the UK. The case concerns a Catholic whose identity we cannot yet reveal- a single man, aged 30.

The problematic areas of the rejection surround two areas :
1) The assessment of the situation of Christians generally, and
2) the particular reasoning used to reject the applicants account of persecution against him.

Starting with the first area, whilst a few points seem reasonable (eg the UKBA recognises there is a far greater danger for converts from Islam than for people who have always been Christian) the ridiculousness is found first in the reaction the UKBA showed to the applicants submission of an article about the assassination earlier this year of (Catholic) Minorities Minister Shabhaz Bhatti as evidence of the plight of Catholics in Pakistan. The UKBA stated this was not reasonable evidence because:

‘Bhatti was a high profile figure involved in supporting numerous religious minorities, not just Catholics. This is in direct contrast to yourself who is essentially an ordinary Roman Catholic’

Leaving aside the terrible English grammar, let us just ask observe a couple of facts and ask one simple question. Firstly, the Minorities Ministry is necessary, because it is essentially the only structural bulwark of protection for otherwise politically powerless minorities (and even then, it’s effect is merely to ameliorate conditions a little).

Secondly, the precariousness of even that Ministry was shown by the very strong moves made to disband it after the assassination of the Minister! And finally, if things for minorities were so good, why was there a need for a Minorities Ministry in the first place? It is precisely because of the terrible conditions and continuous persecution and discrimination ‘ordinary’ Catholics (and other religious minorities) have to endure that such a ministry was necessary in the first place. If conditions were relatively good, there would be no need for such a ‘high profile’ campaigner in the first place!

If the UKBA requires a full listing of the number of Christian Communities that have suffered inequality or persecution over the last 2 years, they could not go far wrong by accessing the BPCA blogsite. Literally all our community is undermined, underprivileged or discriminated as a consequence of their faith. Moreover, many stories are simply not printed due to threats against reporters with a conscience who would otherwise publish the stories, or the lack of interest in Christian communities exhibited by other reporters. It is for palpable reasons (significant deaths and injuries) that the “Committee to Protect Journalists” have emphasized the need for continuous enhanced safety measures for reporters in Pakistan:

Quite frankly, this, coupled with the indifference exhibited by many Pakistani Journalists in portraying the reality of Christians as an underclass and persecuted minority, have led to an inaccurate assessment of the prevailing suffering for our homeland community. A study taken by agents on an unofficial basis, un-shepherded by the Pakistani government would, in the BPCA’s opinion, be markedly more revealing and would no doubt substantiate the constant campaigning from humanitarian groups.

Incredibly, the rejection letter goes on to say (of converts from Islam!!) that the many (and we should say, far from exhaustive) accounts of violence against Christians in the recent US State Department report
‘fall...far short of showing that a person who converts to Christianity faces as such in Pakistan a real risk of treatment which can be described as persecutory or otherwise inhuman or degrading treatment.’

It then concludes that ‘a Christian convert who returned to Pakistan would not face a real risk of persecution’! Quite frankly, such ignorance of the reality on the ground is disturbing, especially as this falls in the part of the letter dedicated to ‘objective reporting’ of pertinent background information.

The main reason for such significant downplaying of the official reports is that they ‘have to be set against the background of there being, as previously stated, some 4 million Christians in Pakistan’. This is a tired line we have heard from the UKBA before. They also try and say that a lot of persecution of Christians is really about ‘caste’ and to imply that as someone from a relatively wealthy Christian family, such did not affect the applicant. (See comments on a previous similarly spuriously reasoned asylum rejection - ).

More to the point, it is the relative size of the minority that is important, along with other considerations. 4 million is still a very small proportion of the population, and even in provinces where they are concentrated, they mostly constitute tiny and isolated communities amidst a sea of (often hostile) Muslim villages. This tiny size would lead them to be vulnerable to be overlooked, even if it were not for the rampant discrimination and enmity against them displayed in much of popular street, religious, judicial and media sentiment.

Christians constitute (even at the higher figures suddenly quoted as accurate here compared to previous UKBA rejection letters which have given it as a speculative higher figure compared to the lower official figures) about 2% of the population. This tiny population has no weight in deciding political futures even when block voting and thus has been overlooked by its politicians. This has allowed unruly, extremist, jealous or simply sadistic groups or individuals to freely conduct their desired maltreatment, with impunity. This impunity is bolstered by the knowledge that systematic and cultural bias is in their favour.

The handling of some further ‘objective background information’ gives more grounds for concern. For instance, to try and play down the Christian situation re blasphemy charges, the report quotes a report that says 50% of all blasphemy charges against Muslims. This is true but disingenuous and irrelevant. More to the point, 40% of such charges were in fact against Christians, who only comprise 2% of the population, showing the massively disproportionate use of such charges.

The report also cites a number of factors in a similar disingenuous manner. For instance, it highlights one or two very rare examples of ‘success’, like the building of a Christian chapel within a jail. However, do Muslim groups have to pay similar levels of costs for comparable facilities? The UKBA don’t say. Besides, such facilities can easily be taken away. For instance, Christians were attacked at Christmas several years ago after Government land was given for the building of a church:

For a more recent example of the vulnerability of Christian property and facilities, note the case where land purchased for use as an orphanage by a church has been usurped in a violent attack in which 29 were injured and 1 man lost his life:

The UKBA mentions provincial assemblies making calls for reviews of blasphemy laws, but fails to mention that such calls had no effect. It mentions a massive debate on the blasphemy law, but fails to note that 40,000 Muslims called for the death of the Christian Asia Bibi as part of that ‘debate’.

It reports of politicians vowing to apprehend killers of Bhatti, but neglects that the police let the culprits escape, or the concocted evidence of a family feud as the cause, rather than Bhatti’s Christian faith. It also reports politicians calling for investigations into discrimination in aid in flood relief programs, but no mention of the outcomes (what outcomes!) for such investigations. Placing trust in politicians rhetoric and words rather than actual deeds and results on the ground is quite typical, it seems, of the UKBA approach. They seem to hold the very naive belief that Pakistani politicians spoken word is law and effective and true. (If any of you saw the recent BBC documentary ‘Secret Pakistan’ you may laugh now.....).  View Secret Pakistan here:

The report also mentions cash compensation of the mother of Shazia Bashir, a Christian girl raped and murdered by her employer, a very senior Muslim lawyer. Apparently this is meant to reassure us that Pakistan looks after it’s minorities! Pah! Cash for shame, shameful cash. It just shows that powerful Muslim elites will protect their own whilst fobbing of the crying need for justice with wads of cash. The perpetrators still go free, there is no deterrent, and this is supposed to be grounds for rejecting an asylum claim? The BPCA condemns the policy of money payments in place of justice for Christian victims of violence, rape and murder.

The UKBA claims that Taliban ideology is behind an upsurge in attacks against Christians. If that is so, then most attacks on Christians would occur in Khyber Pakhtunkwa. However the majority of attacks are in the Punjab (simply due to the significantly larger population) and not in areas with Taliban dominance.
The report mentions an apparent lack of discrimination for Christians applying for medical roles or universities. However, the numbers of Christian students to attain such places are small. More importantly is that lack of complaints is not evidence of fair practice.

The UKBA have described the fear of reprisals felt by Christians when legal proceedings are taken against perpetrators of violence and persecution. The BPCA is disappointed that the UKBA failed to recognise evidence that backs up that fear – for instance, that all seventy of the accused in the attack on Gojra were acquitted due to a lack of evidence and failure of any witnesses to come forward due to threats that forced some to flee abroad, and all to withdraw their testimony as the following article notes - also note the comments of Islamic leaders in the region which exemplify precisely the attitude that directly pertains to Mr Raza’s situation.

Read part 2 by clicking (here)

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