By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
ISLAMABAD (Worthy News) - A Pakistani Christian family whose relatives were killed by angry Muslims will soon travel to Australia after receiving asylum following a decade of waiting, activists say.
Qaiser Masih, 47, his wife Fehmida, 36, Daughter Jennie, 18, and son Ragal, 13, arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2012 but had to wait for asylum until this year Worthy News learned.
The family is directly related to seven people who were shot and burned alive in an anti-Christian attack in the Pakistani city of Gojra in August 2009, Christians said.
“A Muslim mob of over 3000 attacked the Christian community of Gojra,” said the British Asian Christian Association (BACA), which investigated the case.
Masih and his family lived on the same street in Gojra as the murdered family, BACA added. “But they left their home for it to be looted and burned to the ground when the Muslim rioters arrived,” BACA told Worthy News.
However, his 50-year-old sister Parveen who lived nearby, “was killed with their mother, her husband, her father in law, two children, and her unborn child,” the group added.
Her husband had tried to lock the gate of their house and called the police for support. “Their house was across the road from a railway station where the mob accumulated. The mob began firing random shots at Christian homes, and one hit Qaiser Masih’s father-in-law’s leg while resting on his open-top roof,” BACA recalled.
“Some of his neighbors ran to Qaiser’s home to tell Parveen, who was visiting him further down the road. Parveen and her mother ran to her home and tried to help the father-in-law with other household members.”
However, it was too late. “Soon after, the rioters arrived at Parveen’s home. The Christian family pleaded with the rioters to leave their home alone as they were innocent. This only incensed the Muslim men intent on looting Christian properties and then set what was left ablaze,” BACA recalled. “As the father-in-law pleaded for mercy, enraged Muslim men scaled the large concrete canopy over the gate and shot him in the leg.”
They then “threw white powder in packs (believed to be white phosphorous) around the house and shot each pack till they ignited explosively. Quite soon, the house was ablaze, and the six terrified Christians and Parveen’s growing embryo were consumed in fire within a matter of minutes,” BACA said. “Parveen called Qasier throughout the incident, and he has been traumatized by it ever since.”
In remarks shared with Worthy News, Qaiser Masih said: “The only peace I have is the fact that my sister and her family prayed during their last moments. They were all committed Christians, and I totally believe that in death, they are now at peace with our Father in heaven.”
The violence reportedly broke out after a man claimed a blasphemy against Islam had been committed at a wedding ceremony.
Scores of people, including Christians, have been killed by mobs in Muslim-majority Pakistan in recent years on what their supporters call trumped-up blasphemy charges.
During the Gojra attacks, three local mosques had issued a fatwa against the whole Christian community, and men left the mosques “to wreak revenge on Christian homes,” BACA said.
Besides killing a Christian family, mobs torched up to 100 Christian homes and two churches, Christians said. The attack followed one the previous day in the town of Koriyan, some 40 miles (64 kilometers) away from Gojra, according to rights investigators. A month later, another attack in Sumbrial left Christians fearing for their lives, BACA added.
Masih, who worked as a supervisor of laborers for the local Tehsil Municipal Administration Gojra, said he misses his relatives greatly. “The brutality of their death fills me with dread. But God has healed their pain and removed all suffering – praise Him.”
He stressed it “has taken ten long years to approve our case due to missing documentation and limited spaces. But by the grace of God, finally, we have been accepted by the Australian government.”
The last ten years have been difficult for Masih’s family as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was reluctant to take their case after they fled to Thailand, Christians said.
Trying to evade arrest by hostile Thai authorities, the family was “working for a pittance in black market jobs, while the children had to forgo studying,” BACA explained. “The family moved home no less than 13 times after properties were raided and moved to different areas to avoid arrest. This has been a totally dishevelling experience for them.”
They aren’t alone. “After the devastating attack in Gojra, many Christians fled the area and became homeless. Because of the label of blasphemers given to the whole community, no one who had lived there felt safe. Masses of people fled the country and began a tumultuous life in limbo in Thailand,” BACA said.
“The number was so large in 2012 that over 9000 Pakistani Christians were seeking asylum in Bangkok, the largest of any asylum community in the country.”
Yet, despite the presence of the UNHCR, Christian families found themselves prone to arrest and detainment even when granted full refugee or asylum-seeker status, BACA said. “This is because the Royal Thai Government refuses to ratify U.N. conventions on asylum and treat thousands of Pak-Christians as criminals.”
Yet UNHCR finally approved the Masih family’s asylum case, and they will fly to Australia if they settle their overstay fines in Thailand of 60,000 baht ($1,800).
BACA said it had already sent roughly $520 to them in British pounds and was raising support to help them reach the total figure before April 27. “Otherwise, the family will be forced to stay in a Bangkok prison for three months before flying to their final destination. They will be placed in the same cells as murderers and rapists in very brutal conditions. We want to avoid this situation for all of them.”
Juliet Chowdhry, the BACA Trustee, told Worthy News that the family survived “one of the largest attacks on a Christian community in Pakistan.”
He complained that “despite seven murders, large-scale criminal damage, and hundreds of arrests, no one was brought to justice.”
Chowdhry said it is “a clear example of the pariah status of Christians in Pakistan and the severe persecution they can face.”
“Qaiser Masih lost seven members of his family to brutal violence. He watched as his property was looted and razed to the ground before him and left everything behind to be re-persecuted in Thailand,” the BACA official added.
Chowdhry said that despite the suffering “this family endured, it took ten years in limbo for them to be offered asylum. Even then, they simply praise God for his mercy and goodness. BACA thank them for allowing us to be a part of their lives.”
He stressed that BACA persuaded the Australian government to allow 100 Pakistani Christians a year on their sponsored asylum program. “We are now seeing the blessing of that work as those quotas are being filled. Last month two other families also left Thailand for Australia, including the families of Charles Bhatti and Amjad Saleem. We wish them all well.”