Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief
Some 70.8 million people were displaced worldwide as of 2018. Of these, an estimated 13.6 million people were newly displaced that year due to conflict or persecution on the basis of their ethnicity, their exercise of conscience, or because of their religion or belief.
Today’s news is filled with shocking accounts from various countries about the situation of the Ahmadiyya Muslims, Baha’is, Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities. Many of these individuals face harrowing circumstances in their home countries simply for claiming their religious identity, exercising or manifesting their faith. This includes serious threats to life, liberty and physical integrity, leading them no choice but to flee their homes, towns, or countries, with or without their families, to countries where they think they could seek protection. By the end of 2018, about 25.9 million people were refugees, and another 2.8 million applied for asylum in foreign countries by the end of that year.
These journeys, which all begin with the dreams for a better future, can also be full of danger and fear. Some people risk falling prey to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Some are detained by the authorities as soon as they arrive in a new country. Others may face years of frustration and be subject to abject poverty and fear as they await decisions on their fate by authorities that may be suspicious of their claims, lack a substantive understanding of what constitutes the right to freedom of religion or belief, be uninformed about the situation of religious freedom in the country from which they fled, or may hold personal convictions or prejudices of their own. Moreover, once in their new country these victims can also find themselves strangers in anew land troubled by familiar aspects of their persecution, including daily racism, xenophobia and discrimination. Hence, these victims of religious persecution are trapped in a vicious cycle of unfair treatment simply for laying claim to their identities.
I read with much concern, the Report that reflects on the findings emanating from the 13-18 May 2019 fact-finding mission carried out by the International Human Rights Committee (IHRC) working in collaboration with the Centre for Asylum Protection, Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe (FOREF), Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Asian Resource Centre, and CAP Freedom of Conscience.
The Report documents many of the aforementioned challenges facing Pakistani refugees, especially the Ahmadis, in Thailand and Malaysia, including the risk of being arbitrarily detained beyond a reasonable period at various Immigration Detention Centres and that despite their refugee status, many still fear for their physical safety due to discrimination and inadequate legal protection. Moreover, many live under precarious conditions, having poor access to employment, healthcare and education.
It is well documented that Ahmadis have fled from Pakistan where they face multiple forms of persecution from the State and non-state actors. This Report identifies the immediate steps that now need to be taken to safeguard refugees, particularly Ahmadi Muslims, by the host countries and by the UNHCR. The resettlement of Ahmadi Muslims to third countries should also be prioritised.
I urge all the relevant authorities in Thailand and Malaysia to step up in their efforts in ensuring that the human rights, especially the right to freedom of religion or belief, of these religiously persecuted refugees are upheld and protected. Additionally, I urge the authorities to review their refugee and asylum policies to ensure that they are compatible with the international standards provided in the Refugee Convention 1951 and its 1967 Protocol. I would like to stress the principle of non-discrimination as to race, religion or belief or country of origin and the equal treatment of the refugees in respective territories of the States concerned. I hope that these religiously persecuted refugees will receive more support through an enhanced legal and social system following a thorough review of the existing challenges and inadequacies that lie in the systems.
“The resettlement of Ahmadi Muslims to the third countries should also be prioritised.”
Prof. Dr. h.c. Heiner Bielefeldt, former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Being forced to hide or deny one’s deeply felt convictions typically causes feelings of self-betrayal, humiliation, loss of identity and the erosion of self-respect. To describe the concomitant suffering, Roger Williams once coined the metaphor of “soul rape”. Thus, it is for good reasons that international human rights law prohibits coercive interferences into a person’s inner nucleus of faith formation in absolute terms. Indeed, the prohibition of coercion in the “forum internum” of freedom of religion or belief is one of the few absolute norms, on par with the ban on torture of the prohibition of slavery
As we know, realities can differ dramatically from normative standards. The situation of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a case in question. In Pakistan, Ahmadis suffer discrimination in all spheres of life, from education to employment, from family life to political participation, from physical safety to access to official documents. Their persecution is systematic, orchestrated by state agencies and militant groups, which frequently cooperate. Criminal law provisions specifically targeting Ahmadis forbid them from manifesting their religious self-understanding while forcing upon them a religious label that they reject. No wonder that many Ahmadis flee from the country, in which they cannot feel safe and at home.
Tragically, the situation in some other Asian states is no better. This report documents the dire circumstances, which Ahmadi refugees from Pakistan endure in Malaysia and Thailand. In Malaysia, where Islam has the status of an official religion, the general ideological pattern of discrimination seems to follow the example of Pakistan. Ahmadis are treated as “heretics”, whose sheer existence allegedly endangers the purity of the Islamic creed. In
addition to this comes extremely inhospitable conditions for refugees. In Thailand too, the situation of Ahmadis is characterized by the denial of even a minimum respect for human rights, including school education for their children, provision of basic health care and access to legal aid.
In the face of this unbearable situation, the international community has to step in. Turning a blind eye to the ongoing suffering of Ahmadis, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere, would ruin the credibility of international human rights commitments in general. One way of showing solidarity is by designing resettlement programmes for certain groups of Ahmadis, in line with the criteria set up by UNHCR. Given the degrading circumstances in refugee camps, as documented in this Report, resettlement may be the only viable solution to enable some groups of Ahmadis to live a life without fear and experience respect for their human dignity.
“ Turning a blind eye to the ongoing suffering of Ahmadis, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere, would ruin the credibility of international human rights commitments in general. One way of showing solidarity is by designing resettlement programmes for certain groups of Ahmadis, in linewith the criteria set up by UNHCR “
VIEW THE FULL VERSION OF THE REPORT HERE: