Thousands of Pakistani Christian asylum-seekers in Thailand are subjected to an unfair burden of proof by the United Nations, which has led to many denials for believers fleeing persecution, a human rights lawyer told members of Congress Tuesday.
Ann Buwalda, the director of the international advocacy group Jubilee Campaign USA and founder of Just Law International, testified before members of House Foreign Affairs subcommittee about the crisis of religious and ethnic minority asylum seekers in Thailand.
As Pakistan ranks as the fifth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, thousands of Pakistani Christians migrate to countries like Malaysia and Thailand in search of refuge from societal violence associated with their faith in Christ in the 97-percent Muslim Pakistan.
According to Buwalda, Jubilee Campaign estimates that there are as many as 3,000 to 4,000 Pakistani Christian refugees in Thailand with cases pending before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many of those refugees are in the city of Bangkok.
"Some of them are approved and awaiting resettlement," she explained. "But some cases are closed and affording them with no place to go."
Buwalda entered into the testimony the case of Michael D'Souza, a Pakistani Christian who was denied refugee status by the UNHCR in Bangkok and was forced to stay in Bangkok's notorious Immigration and Detention Center (IDC). The conditions at the center, Buwalda and other rights activists say, are "deplorable."
"[A]fter one year of suffering through that and no hope, he returned to Pakistan. Michael D'Souza was brutalized by the very people he feared would persecute him," Buwalda said. "His case should not have been denied and he remains stranded in Karachi, Pakistan."
In May 2017, one Christian man accused of blasphemy in Pakistan died in the center after authorities neglected to provide him with treatment to a curable health condition.
As for D'Souza, Buwalda says that his case demonstrates the fact refugees fleeing religious persecution "should be provided with opportunities to have their cases with more reasonableness."
"We have found that with many of the cases within UNHCR in Bangkok, there are denials because there is an unreasonable standard and burden of proof placed upon them," she explained. "We have many cases, as do colleagues of ours, that assist with the refugee processing. It clearly appears to us that UNHCR in Bangkok has placed a higher burden of proof on Pakistani Christian asylum seekers."
Buwalda and her colleagues have tried to raise awareness about the struggles facing Christian asylum seekers in Thailand.
"We have approached the UNHCR. They are sympathetic. But the conditions in terms of the interviews have not changed," Buwalda said. "We would like to see that change take place."