01/21/2014, 00.00
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Pakistani Christians ask for Church help to get political asylum in Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera
At least 200 refugees, including more than 50 children, have been stranded in Negombo for nearly three years. UNHCR authorities have not yet recognised their rights as refugees. The inability to get an education and crime are their most serious problems. "In Pakistan, we are treated like enemies," some young people said, "but as Christians, there is no peace in our country."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - About 200 Pakistani Christians have asked the Catholic Church for help to secure political asylum in Sri Lanka. For almost three years, these refugees have been stranded in Negombo (Western Province) without help from the local government. This is especially problematic for the more than 50 children who cannot go to school, and for young people who are likely to become victims of crime.

"We did not want to leave Pakistan," some of them told AsiaNews, "but as Christians, there is no peace in our country."

This community of refugees has been supported by members of the Catholic clergy in Negombo, in particular by the Claretian Sisters and by Fr Terrance Bodiyabaduge, who is in charge of coordinating and distributing the aid provided by local parishioners.

Two days ago, the church of Kudapaduwa celebrated a special Mass in Urdu for the refugees. At the end of the service, the representatives of the clergy met to present their most urgent demands.

"We want to make an appeal to the international community," they said, "to change Pakistan's discriminatory laws and to UNHCR to help obtain asylum in Sri Lanka as refugees on religious, social and economic grounds."

"I know that the Sri Lankan government will not help these people," Fr Bodiyabaduge told AsiaNews. "Only the Catholic Church can do something for them."

Sharoon John, a young Pakistani Christian, told AsiaNews that in Pakistan, "We are treated as enemies. Wherever we go, we are not respected. For example, if I wanted to join the police force I would have to bribe some official despite my qualifications just because I am Christian. I can also think of the many threats that we receive if one of us wants to marry a Muslim man or woman."

One of the greatest threats to their lives are the so-called "blasphemy laws", whereby anyone who desecrates the Qur'an or insults Muhammad can be sentenced to death.

"Because of these rules," the Christians noted, "many of our Christian brothers and sisters have fled to other countries to save themselves. Those who did not make it were either killed or jailed for life."

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