World Refugee Day: Refugees in South East Asia

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(Image from British Pakistani Christian Association)

This Sunday marks another opportunity for churches to set aside time to show concern and support for refugees!

Jubilee Campaign has long supported refugees fleeing Pakistan.

In Pakistan, Christians are regularly discriminated against, harassed, and attacked for their faith. Blasphemy laws, which prohibit any utterance against Islam, are used maliciously against Christians. Christians accused of blasphemy can face hefty fines, life in prison, or even death.

In its 2016 Annual Report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that approximately 40 Pakistanis are currently serving life sentences or are sentenced to death under blasphemy charges.

In addition, churches and places of worship are often targeted and attacked, school curriculum discriminates against religious minorities, and Christians fear being attacked or killed for speaking about their faith or against blasphemy laws. This fear has led religious minorities, especially Christians, to seek refuge in other countries.

Jubilee Campaign works to both prevent Pakistani Christians from turning into refugees and assisting those who have already fled the country. Our first step is prevention. We tirelessly advocate for a more inclusive political and social environment for religious minorities in Pakistan. This includes advocating for the repeal of blasphemy laws in the country and encouraging efforts to combat extremism.

We also aid those who have already been forced to leave. Thousands of Pakistani Christians have to make a quick escape by obtaining a visitor’s visa to Thailand. Once there, they apply for asylum with the United Nations refugee office located in Bangkok. There are approximately 10,000 Pakistani Christian asylum seekers currently in Bangkok.

Due to a backlog in processing by the UN, these asylum seekers end up overstaying their visitor’s visas. Since Thailand is not signed on to international law protecting refugees, they are considered illegal. Thai authorities regularly round up these asylum seekers and throw them in jail or the Immigration Detention Center, where they live in cramped and dirty conditions.

A sad report came out just this month of a Christian Pakistani man who died in a detention center because he was denied medical treatment. This is not how refugees should be treated. We are continuously advocating for the better treatment of refugees in Bangkok.

Jubilee Campaign financially partners with an organization in Bangkok to provide food, housing, and education to Pakistani Christians in Thailand. If you would like to donate to support a family, please give here.

Otto Warmbier’s death a testimony to life in North Korea

Jubilee Campaign is a member of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea. We would like to share the below ICNK statement with you discussing Otto Warmbier’s tragic death due to his time in North Korea.
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(Seoul – June 23, 2017) — The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) expresses its profound sadness and concern over the death of US citizen Otto Warmbier.
 
“It makes Mr. Warmbier’s death no less tragic to observe that every North Korean must live every day with the awareness that the slightest departure from Pyongyang’s repressive laws and orders could result in arbitrary detention without trial, life-long imprisonment in a ‘gulag’ prison camp, torture, or execution,” said Eun Kyoung Kwon, Secretary-General of the ICNK.
 
While ICNK does not yet know the exact cause of Mr. Warmbier’s death, there is no doubt that North Korea bears responsibility for arbitrarily arresting him, sending him to trial in a court where basic fair trial principles and procedures were ignored, and then incarcerating him in a way that made it possible to suffer grievous injury. The fact that North Korea held Warmbier for more than a year while he was in a coma, depriving him of access to advanced medical treatment, was also an outrageous violation of his rights. The treatment that Warmbier received at the hands of North Korean authorities is consistent with the kinds of abuse experienced by thousands of North Koreans held for so-called political crimes.
 
Mr. Warmbier’s alleged ‘crime’ was taking down a propaganda banner from a staff-only area of his hotel during his tour group’s visit to North Korea. For that perceived insult to the government and the ruling Workers Party of Korea, he was arrested, forced to confess, judged without receiving any legal assistance, and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor in an arbitrary and unjust manner similar to what many North Koreans have experienced.
 
Over the past 20 years, North Korea has arrested 16 US citizens on various trumped up charges. To date, three of them remain in custody. Over the same time period, hundreds of thousands of North Korean citizens have been held in the country’s vast system of labor camps for allegedly deviating from Pyongyang’s insistence on absolute loyalty to the ruling Kim family dynasty.
 
“The only comfort we can offer to the Warmbier family is that we will not cease our work on human rights in North Korea, until the perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to justice,” concluded Eun Kyoung Kwon.
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The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea is a joint effort of over 40 human rights groups worldwide that seeks to protect the human rights of North Koreans and to hold the Pyongyang government accountable for its abuses and violations of the human rights of the North Korean people.

Pakistani Christian refugee dies in Thai detention center

Last month, 35-year-old Pakistani Christian Ijaz Masih passed away after he was refused medical treatment by the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Bangkok, Thailand. Masih was in Bangkok with his wife and three children seeking international refugee protection from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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(Photo from British Christian Pakistani Association)

According to reports, Masih had been complaining of chest pain, then died of a heart attack just a few hours later. Just a few months prior, he had suffered a stroke due to the stress of being detained and the stress that comes with seeking refugee protection. Masih was apparently detained for more than a year for an illegal entry charge. His case had been rejected by the UNHCR just the day before.

Masih is not the first to die while detained at the IDC. At least two others have died in recent years due to negligence by the IDC. Multiple reports have called on the Thai government to improve the conditions of the detention facility, but none have been made.

Individuals who are detained face crowded cells, horrible unsanitary conditions, diseases, and poor ventilation. In addition, the authorities do not hesitate to detain children, which is prohibited by international law signed by the Thai government.

Jubilee Campaign continues to urge the Thai government to improve the conditions of the IDC. Jubilee Campaign has recommended that the Thai government implement alternatives to detention, such as regular police check-in’s. This would not only prevent overcrowding, but would prevent negligence, such as in the case of Ijaz Masih.

In addition, Jubilee Campaign continues to encourage the Thai government to become a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Since the Thai government is not already a signatory, it has no obligation to protect refugees. In Thailand, refugees are denied access to health care, work, and education and are vulnerable to detainment at the IDC.

We have partnered with an organization in Bangkok that assists refugees with housing, food, and education for the children. This organization also visits those detained in the IDC and brings healthy meals, toiletries, and provides visits and communication between those detained and their families. Please consider donating so that we may continue to help our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.

Please pray for the Thai government to show these refugees mercy, and to immediately stop the arrests. In addition, please pray for the UNHCR officers to have the wisdom to discern legitimate cases that need to be granted refugee protection.

World Refugee Day: What you need to know

Syria’s refugee crisis

The world is facing the largest refugee crisis on record. There are currently over 65 million displaced people around the world–that’s 1 in every 113 persons. These people have been forcibly driven from their homes due to factors such as war, famine, and persecution. To make matters worse, a majority of those displaced are children.

World Refugee Day is June 20. The day will be commemorated by churches on the Sundays of June 18 and June 25. Continue reading to see how you can join us in supporting refugees.
Jubilee Campaign recognizes that restrictions on religious freedom and the persecution of religious minorities contribute greatly to the refugee crisis.

As you know, Syria’s religious minorities have been subject to genocide and other forms of intense persecution due to war and terrorism. Half the population has been displaced with nearly 5 million forced to leave the country entirely. This not only is putting men, women, and children in desperate situations, but it is ridding the land of the Christians who represent its ancient religious heritage.

Syria is currently the world’s biggest producer of refugees and surrounding countries are struggling to support the influx of displaced Syrians. Unfortunately, as long as terrorism and the Syrian war continue, refugees will continue to pour out of Syria only making the refugee crisis more extreme.

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We believe the refugee crisis will continue to worsen until a viable and sustainable solution is found that brings protection to all people groups and peace to Syria. That is why Jubilee Campaign has begun advocating for a Syrian government that is secular, pluralistic, and democratic.

This may sound impossible to achieve in a country such as Syria, but did you know that a functioning democracy already exists in parts of Syria?
In northeast Syria an autonomous region exists that includes the cities of Afrin, Jazira, and Kobane. In this region, Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Turkmen, Armenians, and Chechens of various faiths live peacefully alongside of one another.

These communities created a social contract to govern themselves. This is the model we are using to promote such a solution for Syria.
We are seeing some of the worst humanitarian situations in the world for refugees leaving the Middle East. Would you join us in bringing a solution to Syria? One that is inclusive, sustainable, and that would allow people to stay in their homes and thrive. Please join us by making a donation here. Please make a note in the memo line that the donation should go toward Syria.

(Image from UNHCR.)

ISIS stakes claim in the Philippines

When you think of ISIS, what’s likely to come to mind is Syria and other parts of the Middle East. Perhaps you even think of Europe with the terrorist attacks that have become increasingly more common and the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking protection.

What’s less likely to come to mind is the Christian-majority country of the Philippines. However, a small militant group in the city of Marawi that has pledged allegiance to ISIS is causing significant damage, and some experts fear it has the potential to lead a tide of extremism, and the spread of ISIS occupation in South Asia.

The Maute Group, an Islamist extremist group that has joined ISIS, has been controlling parts of the city of Marawi in the Philippines and fighting against the country’s army. The group has the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Lanao province of Mindanao island.

Conflict reached a peak last week, when the Philippine army launched a mission to find high-level terrorist Isnilon Hapilon, after a tip off that he could be in the city. Upon arriving in Marawi, the army was met by intense resistance from Maute fighters and Hapilon escaped.

Despite high death tolls among the terrorists, they have remained determined and maintained control over areas of the city. The group has taken disturbing actions such as freeing dozens of prisoners, many of which joined their forces, setting fire to buildings, recruiting and using children as propaganda, and taking hostages.

The fighting last week included the extremists tying up 9 Catholics at the city gates and killing them.

Sources say that children as young as 4 have been recruited to the group; vulnerable orphans have specifically been targeted. These children have been featured in videos made by the group as well as forced to fight.

Among the hostages taken by the group is Catholic priest Teresito Suganob. Fr. Suganob was shown in a propaganda video saying that he is being held with 200 others, including children and fellow Christians. There have been claims that hostages are being used as human shields.

Military General Eduardo Ano said that over 100 militants, government personnel, and civilians have lost their lives in the fighting.

Experts fear that with international focus currently set on controlling ISIS in the Middle East, Mindanao could become a strategic place for the Islamist extremist group to spread in South Asia.