By Joseph DeCaro
(Worthy News) - Pakistanis fleeing their country's notorious blasphemy laws have been heading to Thailand for sanctuary.
And for more than a decade, our parish has helped these refugees, said Rev. Domenico Rodighiero, the pastor of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Saphanmai, Bangkok. The refugees are mostly Protestants and Catholics, but there are also many Ahmadi Muslims fleeing from persecution in Pakistan.
According to Asia News, most refugees from Pakistan flee first to Thailand, hoping to later resettle in other Southeast Asian countries. But this can prove to be problematic since Thailand does not recognize that refugees have rights.
"When people arrive, they get a tourist visa at the airport for a month, or 20 days," said Rodighiero. "In some cases, they are renewed, but only rarely because it is expensive and complicated."
Rodighiero said that the refugee situation is more difficult in Thailand because it can take years for the UN to recognize their status. In the meantime, refugees have no right to work; some receive aid from their families, but after several years they eventually run out of resources and have to return to Pakistan.
"The Thai Church is generous and helps refugees find work," said Rodighiero. "Sometimes we help them go home, or in special situations, like when they get sick. But it is not easy because there are so many and the needs are huge. The church here is small and does not have a lot of resources. It is struggling to deal with such a big emergency."
Thailand never signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, so refugees who overstay their visas can be deported, or even imprisoned.