Forty-five Christians to spend Easter in Lahore street as refugees (video)
by Kamran Chaudhry

Christians have been holding out in front of the press club since 5 March because of a land dispute after 30 people attacked him. The land where the Christian ghetto is located is claimed by a Muslim of the ruling party. The refugees have been affected by skin and the stomach ailments.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Christians from the village of Sankhatra will spend Easter on the street in front of the Lahore Press Club.

The group of 45 people, including 27 children, have lived as refugees since 5 March, afraid of going home because of a land dispute with a politician from the ruling party.

For them, this has meant living at an empty plot. As a result, many have come down with skin allergies and stomach ailments. One of their banners at their makeshift camp reads: "We are Christians, let us live in peace".

Most of the Christians are casual labourers who make a living working in brick kilns. They came to the press club following the attack last month against Rev Aashir Aftaab and two villagers. They were against the installation of an electricity meter at their community centre surrounded by a fence.

"Our [Christian] ghetto was built on a government land, on some 1,745 square metres, even before the partition with India” in 1947, the pastor told AsiaNews.

“Budhan Khan, a local Muslim landowner, tried to buy the land at an auction, but the sale was cancelled in 1981. Now his son, Muslim League activist Nawaz Party, is using false papers to grab the land.

“Last year a mob of 500 people tore demolished our mud houses but we came back thanks to the intervention of a Christian member of the Assembly of Punjab."

As a minority, Rev Aftaab bemoans, Christians are the victims of a discriminatory attitude.

"Our women are harassed when they go to church. Instead of arresting the ruffians, the police organise meetings with them at the station. They recently filed a lawsuit against locals accusing them of stealing the electricity meter. There is no hope of returning home for Easter."

Rev Majid Abel, moderator of the Presbyterian Church, provided the refugees with tents, the only shelter they have. Bait-ul-Mal, a governmental NGO, gave them access to bathrooms and sinks.

Meals are prepared at a field kitchen installed in a corner of the camp, covered with plastic sheets hanging from bamboo sticks.

The conditions in which the refugees live have favoured the spread of skin diseases and food poisoning.

Christians "can use the bathrooms in the office building only from 4 to 6 pm, after the employees leave,” said Noreen Bibi, a mother of three. “The church is open for us at any time, but it is far.”

“Some of us have eye allergies and rats bother us at night,” she explained. “Children have to keep their head covered with scarves all day long. Every so often we stage a protest.”

“Various TV stations have reported our situation but we are still waiting for the results of talks with our religious and political leaders. We can put up with police beating, but not bullets."

Shunila Ruth, a Christian lawyer and member of an opposition party, is set to discuss the situation with the speaker of the provincial assembly.

"Poor families must exercise their rights,” she said. “I will meet the police officers together with our leaders."