Kathriya Louis is gazing out of the window of the second floor condo she shares with her family in Thailand when a military vehicle pulls up. Pausing only to take a quick picture on her cell phone, she quickly withdraws inside, and the family sit in silence, hoping not to be the latest detainees shipped to Thailand’s immigration centers.
Kathriya, 20, is just one of thousands of Pakistani Christians who fled to the country following persecution in her home state. But like her compatriots, Kathriya lives her life in fear of being arrested and detained as an illegal immigrant.
“I am really worried,” she told Breitbart News. “We are all scared that the soldiers and police will come in larger numbers to take us all away. We all know how badly detainees are treated in the immigration detention centre, and none of us want to go there.”
Kathriya is lucky, for now – the officials move on. But she admits: “My family and I are planning what to do in an emergency, we are also thinking of spending time outdoors in tourist areas to prevent being caught at home again.”
And she begs: “Please ask people to pray for us.”
Thailand is not a signatory to the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention, and does not recognize asylum seekers from anywhere, considering them to be illegal immigrants instead. Consequently, those who flee to Thailand must wait to be assessed by the UN’s Refugee Agency and, if granted refugee status, to be moved to a country willing to accept a quota of asylum seekers. The whole process takes around five years, during which time the migrants are unable to work and must rely on charity handouts.
But precarious as it is, life in Thailand is preferable to the old life they left behind in Pakistan, where Christians are frequently caught in indebted slavery, tortured, falsely accused of blasphemy, and sentenced to death. Thousands of girls have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam before being married off to their captors. Many, consequently, have fled the country.
Kathriya remembers well the difficulties that came with being the only Christian family in her native town. “Our Muslim neighbors did not like us because they knew we were Christians,” she said. “Whenever we prayed or played Christian music they would come to our house and shout at us. My brothers were always caught up in arguments and fights and were harassed and bullied daily.”
Three years ago, an argument between her nephew and a local girl escalated when the girl falsely accused him of blasphemy, a charge which carries a death penalty. Within hours a mob had surrounded the family’s homes, beating her relatives and threatening to lynch them. Kathriya and her family were able to slip away through a rear exit and hid in a nearby town for six weeks, where a local pastor suggested they flee to Thailand, even helping with the cost of flights.
“My family is still deeply traumatized by the attack,” she admits. “I cry when I remember the day of the attack; none of us will ever forget it.”
“We felt in fear of our lives and needed to flee quickly, so we came to Thailand because it is easy to get here, visa is cheap and easy to get and flights are inexpensive. Also, most other countries do not accept Pakistanis. And my pastor told us to go to Thailand because others had escaped there. We were told that the UN would help us.”
Last year, the family were once again pitched into turmoil following the bombing of the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, in an attack which claimed the lives of 20 people and left more than 120 wounded. The Thai authorities used the attack as an excuse to crack down on immigrants. Kathriya and her family narrowly escaped detention.
“We were woken up at 7.am by the noise of lots of vehicles that had arrived at our condos,” she recounted. “I could see many were the royal army, Royal police and Immigration officers also and they came with large vans with bars on.
“I was with my mum, and from our balcony I saw them breaking doors on many of the flats and was terrified.” Although Kathriya and her mother hid in the bathroom, immigration officials broke down their door, demanding to see their passports, and rejecting the UNHCR papers which listed them as asylum seekers.
“The immigration officer demanded we go downstairs and led us to where other asylum seekers had been taken. The Police placed Somalians in the vans first then started to place Pakistani into the vans, but ran out of space. So the vans left and I was left with my Mother, my two sisters in law and their four children, and there were some other Pakistani woman around also.
My fourteen-year-old niece and I asked if we could go to the toilet, and whilst there some of our friends called us to come to them through a back door that the Police did not know of. We went through the door and quickly jumped onto a taxi motorcycle, escaping to my friend’s house.
A few hours later I received a call from my mother, who had also escaped with my nephew. She had been allowed to get some milk for my small baby nephew who was crying, but after the landlord allowed her through the gates of the condo he had and argued with the Police to let her stay. Thankfully, a Christian Police officer told them to leave her, and so they did.”
Now just two months away from their interview with the UHNCR, with a view to being granted ‘Refugee Status Determination’ following a nearly three-year wait, Kathriya and her family fear that a spate of recent bomb attacks will provoke further crackdowns which could see her detained or even deported.
If she is granted Refugee status she faces a further wait of two to three years before she is granted leave to travel to a country which will accept her.
“I’m hoping to move somewhere safe where I can continue my studies and create an opportunity for a better life,” she said. “I am not bothered where I am resettled, but want to get to a Christian country. I won’t feel safe in a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist nation.”
“I have already suffered persecution and just want to live a normal life free of danger and persecution I have done nothing to deserve the violence and hatred that I have had to suffer for most of my life, and I just want to be able to use my abilities to better my life and that of my family.”
“Our lives in Thailand have become worthless and without purpose or value. The situation in here is becoming unbearable, and Pakistan is now an impossibility for us. The UNHCR must help refugees likes us gain acceptance and hope.”