How Pakistani Christians Fleeing Persecution Get Tied Up in Thailand
Image: Nicolas Asfouri / Getty

Nearly four years after refugees from Pakistan began showing up at evangelical churches in Thailand, church members were overwhelmed. What started as a handful of families asking for money at Bangkok services had become hundreds.

Today, nearly 10,000 Pakistani refugees are living in Thailand. An estimated half of them are Christians fleeing persecution like the Easter Sunday bombing in Lahore.

It is easy and inexpensive (compared with neighboring countries) for Pakistanis to obtain 30-day tourist visas to Thailand. Further, the majority Buddhist nation has lost more than 6,000 people to Islamist extremism since 2004. This leads Pakistani Christians fleeing persecution to believe the country will be sympathetic to their plight, says Jeffrey Imm, an advocate for such refugees. [Jubilee Campaign offers an in-depth report.]

Even so, after the tourist visa expires, Thailand considers all refugees to be illegal immigrants. Most left Pakistan not knowing that Thailand has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, a treaty that protects refugees’ rights. Without legal status, many families fear that they will be arrested and forced to endure harsh conditions in immigration detention centers until they’re bailed out, can pay for a return flight, or are resettled.

Their plight has become increasingly public. In February, the BBC released a one-hour documentary highlighting Thailand’s treatment of Pakistani refugees. Since its release, the situation has only worsened for migrants, states the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA). It claims that Thai officials blocked two dozen humanitarians seeking to visit and provide food for refugees in detention centers earlier this month, and that family members are now ...

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