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Pakistan Christian Refugees in Thailand – UNHCR Processes and Rules to Remember

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For Pakistan Christian refugees seeking asylum in Thailand, R.E.A.L. recommend they become familiar with the following processes, rules, and guidelines:

R.E.A.L. views persecution of Pakistan Christian refugees to be consistent with the guidelines set by the UNHCR to consider refugee persecution, as described in the United Nations Handbook and Guidelines on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status (HCR/1P/4/ENG/REV. 3). It is R.E.A.L.’s contention that, in accordance with Part One, Section B. Interpretation of terms, Subsection (2)(b) Persecution, paragraph 51, such cases fit the definition of “persecution,” which clearly applies to this case as defined by the facts of the case and the circumstances of his country of origin, as very clearly seen by past events and highlighted by recent events in the persecution of Pakistan Christians. Paragraph 51 clearly states that “From Article 33 of the 1951 Convention, it may be inferred that a threat to life or freedom on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group is always persecution. Other serious violations of human rights – for the same reasons – would also constitute persecution.” We have seen from the case of Pakistan Christian refugees based on religious persecution as a Christian by extremists, and the ongoing threats to this Pakistan Christian refugee, that such persecution is a threat to life and freedom based on his Christian religious minority status.

R.E.A.L. further notes the applicability of the May 14, 2012 UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for assessing the international protection needs of members of religious minorities from Pakistan (HCR/EG/PAK/12/02), Section C.1, and the known threat documented in the UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines regarding threats to religious minorities from blasphemy laws. This includes the UNHCR statement that Blasphemy accusations sometimes spark assaults, assassinations and mob attacks.” It remains our concern that this will be the case in this specific Pakistan Christian refugee’s case.

I also want to point out that the UNHCR Eligibility Guideline in Section IV. “Eligibility for International Protection, A. Potential Risk Profiles, (2). Christians,” recognizes that “Criminal provisions, particularly the blasphemy laws, are reportedly used by militant organizations and members of some Pakistan Muslim communities to intimidate and harass Christians, as well as to exact revenge or settle personal or business disputes.” This section also recognizes that “In many instances, the authorities are reportedly unable or unwilling to protect the lives and properties of Christians, or to bring the perpetrators of such violence to justice.” It further recognizes that “There are allegations of collusion between law enforcement authorities and Muslim clerics” in regards to such persecution of Pakistan Christians.” The UNHCR has previously concluded in such UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines that “In light of the foregoing, UNHCR considers that members of the Christian community, including those targeted by Islamic extremist elements or charged with criminal offences under the blasphemy provisions, victims of bonded labour, severe discrimination, forced conversion and forced marriage, as well as Christians perceived as contravening social mores, may, depending on the individual circumstances of the case, be in need of international refugee protection on account of their religion or membership of a particular social group.”

In the United Nations Handbook and Guidelines on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status (HCR/1P/4/ENG/REV. 3), Pakistan Christian refugees should also be considering the following points:

UNHCR Guidelines, Paragraph 51 – Religious Persecution of Pakistan Christians Must Constitute Persecution for UNHCR. Paragraph 51 clearly states that “From Article 33 of the 1951 Convention, it may be inferred that a threat to life or freedom on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group is always persecution. Other serious violations of human rights – for the same reasons – would also constitute persecution.”

UNHCR Guidelines, Paragraphs 42 and 43 – Assessment of Country of Origin as Factor for Pakistan Christian Refugees. R.E.A.L. has communicated to UNHCR evaluators on the need to effectively assess the dangerous conditions for Pakistan Christian refugees in their country of origin. This is also defined in the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook. The UNHCR Handbook Paragraph 42 specifically states that: “The competent authorities that are called upon to determine refugee status are not required to pass judgement on conditions in the applicant’s country of origin. The applicant’s statements cannot, however, be considered in the abstract, and must be viewed in the context of the relevant background situation. A knowledge of conditions in the applicant’s country of origin –while not a primary objective – is an important element in assessing the applicant’s credibility. In general, the applicant’s fear should be considered well-founded if he can establish, to a reasonable degree, that his continued stay in his country of origin has become intolerable to him for the reasons stated in the definition, or would for the same reasons be intolerable if he returned there.” The UNHCR Handbook Paragraph 43 also specifically states: “These considerations need not necessarily be based on the applicant’s own personal experience. What, for example, happened to his friends and relatives and other members of the same racial or social group may well show that his fear that sooner or later he also will become a victim of persecution is well-founded. The laws of the country of origin, and particularly the manner in which they are applied, will be relevant.”

UNHCR Guidelines, Paragraph 196: Level of Proof for Refugees – UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, Part Two, Procedures for the Determination of Refugee Status, Section B. Establishing the Facts. Paragraph 196. “Often, however, an applicant may not be able to support his statements by documentary or other proof, and cases in which an applicant can provide evidence of all his statements will be the exception rather than the rule. In most cases a person fleeing from persecution will have arrived with the barest necessities and very frequently even without personal documents. Thus, while the burden of proof in principle rests on the applicant, the duty to ascertain and evaluate all the relevant facts is shared between the applicant and the examiner. Indeed, in some cases, it may be for the examiner to use all the means at his disposal to produce the necessary evidence in support of the application. Even such independent research may not, however, always be successful and there may also be statements that are not susceptible of proof. In such cases, if the applicant’s account appears credible, he should, unless there are good reasons to the contrary, be given the benefit of the doubt.”

UNHCR Guidelines, Paragraph 197 – Requirement of Evidence – UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, Part Two, Procedures for the Determination of Refugee Status, Section B. Establishing the Facts. Paragraph 197. “The requirement of evidence should thus not be too strictly applied in view of the difficulty of proof inherent in the special situation in which an applicant for refugee status finds himself.”

UNHCR Guidelines, Paragraph 203: Benefit of the Doubt in Refugee Cases – UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, Part Two, Procedures for the Determination of Refugee Status, Section B. Establishing the Facts. Paragraph 203. “After the applicant has made a genuine effort to substantiate his story there may still be a lack of evidence for some of his statements. As explained above (Paragraph 196), it is hardly possible for a refugee to ‘prove’ every part of his case and, indeed, if this were a requirement the majority of refugees would not be recognized. It is therefore frequently necessary to give the applicant the benefit of the doubt.”

— UNHCR Guidelines, Paragraph 203 and Section 6.3.2 – Definition of Violence and Impact of Violence on Refugee Decisions – UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, Part Two, Procedures for the Determination of Refugee Status, Section B. Establishing the Facts. Paragraph 203. “After the applicant has made a genuine effort to substantiate his story there may still be a lack of evidence for some of his statements. As explained above (Paragraph 196), it is hardly possible for a refugee to ‘prove’ every part of his case and, indeed, if this were a requirement the majority of refugees would not be recognized. It is therefore frequently necessary to give the applicant the benefit of the doubt.”Definition of Violence by UNHCR in Pakistan Christian Refugee Cases. In those cases, where UNHCR evaluators have also dismissed actual reports of violence and violent threats against Pakistan Christian refugees, R.E.A.L. has brought to their attention that the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook calls for a clear definition of violence. In the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, Chapter 6, Resettlement Submission Categories, Section 6.3.2, page 251, the UNHCR uses the definition of violence from the World Health Organization: “Violence is the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.” We must challenge UNHCR decisions that give the perception of a different definition of violence when it comes to Pakistan Christian refugees.

Commitment to Purpose of Resettlement and “Benefit of the Doubt.” The UNHCR Resettlement Handbook states that: “Resettlement is a vital instrument of protection and durable solution. Resettlement under UNHCR auspices is geared primarily to the special needs of refugees under the Office’s mandate whose life, liberty, safety, health or other fundamental human rights are at risk in the country where they sought refuge.” The Handbook also states: “Refugees may be denied basic human rights in a country of refuge; their lives and freedom may be threatened by local elements driven by racial, religious or political motives, or by attacks and assassinations directed from the outside. The authorities in the country of refuge may be unable or unwilling to provide effective protection. In such circumstances, resettlement becomes not a solution of last resort, as it has often been called, but a principal objective.” We must expect UNHCR RSD decisions to be consistent with the overall need by such refugees to find resettlement based on a reasonable “benefit of the doubt” that such refugees have made such claims based on a desperate situation.