Pakistani migrants face harsh reality in Sri Lanka
Thousands of Pakistanis have fled religious persecution and have found themselves living in limbo in countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Naeem Sahoutara has this story from Sri Lanka.
Senin, 30 Jan 2017 10:47 WIB
Pakistan is ranked among the most dangerous countries in the world for religious minorities.
Marginalized and persecuted on the basis of their faith, members of minority groups, such as Christians and Ahmadiyah, regularly flee the country.
Thousands end up living in despair and limbo in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
From Negombo, Asia Calling correspondent Naeem Sahoutara has this story.
These young choir members are singing hymns in the city of Negombo, in Sri Lanka’s south. They are singing for strength and patience in these difficult times.
Unlike the Sinhalese or Tamil languages spoken in the island nation, they’re singing in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.
There are about 100 people here, members of Pakistan’s Christian minority, who fled the country to seek asylum in Sri Lanka.
One woman tells me of her tragic love story but asked that I don’t use her name. It’s a story of being united in love, but divided in faith.
As a Muslim woman she broke taboo and married a Christian man. A move that outraged her family, even sparking calls to have her husband killed.
In Pakistan, interfaith marriages are rare, and even rarer these days, with growing religious intolerance.
Fearing for their safety, the interfaith couple fled to Sri Lanka three years ago.
Thousands of people from religious minority groups in Pakistan – such as Christians, Shia and Ahmadiya – flee persecution and discrimination by the Sunni Muslim majority.
Militant groups linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, have openly attacked their houses of worship, killing hundreds and injuring many more.
It’s why many people leave, seeking a better life elsewhere.
They come to places like Negombo, which today looks like a mini-Pakistan, with hundreds of Pakistanis living here quietly, almost unnoticed. Most of them don’t want to be identified.
Fifty year old Jessica William arrived here with her four children and two grandchildren in 2012.
“My son worked as male nurse, and he used to visit some Muslim patients in their homes,” Jessica told me.
“One day, he was taking a patient to the doctor when they came under armed attack. My son was also shot. Later, he found out that those people had links with terrorists. He was so scared that he left the job and left the country. Those people started searching for my son and harassed the family. So, we also left our home,” she recalled.
Colombo has enjoyed good diplomatic relations with Islamabad, which helped it end militancy by the Tamils, who were allegedly supported by India.
But, things dramatically changed two years ago, when the Sri Lankan authorities stopped issuing visas on arrival to Pakistanis, in fear of an influx of terrorists.
Some 100 migrants, mostly men, were forcibly sent back.
Political observers say New Delhi was putting pressure on Colombo to counter the growing influence of Islamabad in the island nation.
That has left hundreds of asylum seekers stranded and scared.
During my visit to the city, four Pakistani Bishops, who are attending the International Bishops Conference in Colombo, also arrived to meet the frustrated families.
The migrants pleaded with the bishops to press America or European countries to take them in.
People like Jessica, here in this hall, are angry, and fed up.
“We cannot work, whatever we can we do secretly because we have to pay thousands for rent. Let alone food and other things. We spend life in constant fear. I worked as head of a charity organization that helped and sheltered children with special needs. I used to clean and care for the children of others. But, today there is no one to protect my children,” she said.
Sri Lanka might be an attractive place to tourists, known for its lush-green mountains, and beautiful temples, but the life of migrants tells otherwise, says Jessica.
“We fight with snakes and other animals every day. We have no access to the hospitals, schools or jobs. We are forced to secretly work to buy food and pay rent. I’ve one piece of advice for you son! Think of yourself before thinking of anyone else,” Jessica told me.
Following criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR the Sri Lankan government has stopped the deportations.
But, the lengthy asylum processes is still testing the patience of migrants from Pakistan.
Some have even been here for 10 years, their asylum requests denied, they now live in hiding.