Refuge Seeking in Relative Safety

There is a common misconception among Christians in particular that I’ve been mulling over these past weeks.

As usual, my thoughts have been straying to Aasia Bibi, especially since there has been no outbreak of news since her family relocated to Canada. Whilst no news may be an indication that all is well with the Bibi family, I’ve learned through my own experiences that it is never as simple as that.

In an age where attention spans are disrupted by notification bells and where a commitment to study/specialise in a Cause is rare, we’re more inclined to succumb to lazy scrolling, imbibing in ‘trending’ topics, until they pass their expiry dates. We instantly forget the news of yesterday, caught up in the daily torrent of misinformation and information at the flick of a finger. The art of pursuing topical issues of interest, studying case examples and maintaining a heart for such is almost obsolete.

This is particularly frustrating with regards to the Persecuted Church, specifically those who flee oppressive regimes, discriminative laws and murderous local communities for western countries. I find that once Christians such as Bibi slip out of our headlines, they cease to be of concern and interest as there is a lazy assumption there is nothing more to their plight. Therefore prayers, thoughts and advocacy can grind to a halt as we rely on a secular media to think for us:  classic Christian complacency.

In reality, persecuted Christians rarely escape torment, especially those who gain global prominence and recognition to the extent that their faces are plastered across TV screens and newspapers around the world. Christians who flee for sanctuary such as Bibi are unlikely to attain absolute safety. It is matter of relativity. Relative safety.

In Bibi’s case for example, Islamist figures such as Khadim Hussain Rizvi (leader of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik party) continue to bay for her blood, in addition to multiple social media posts and videos informing Muslims of Bibi’s move to Canada. The intent behind this is to kill her. Charges of blasphemy are never forgiven in an Islamic context.

As an aside,  but still important to note, in double-checking facts when writing this blog I noticed that Google has either relegated or removed articles and videos that directly cite names and faces of those who have vowed to kill Bibi. Throughout my following of the Bibi Ordeal, I have written and researched  extensively. My last piece on Aasia was probably six months ago and certain informative mainstream articles that were easy to access then, are no longer available on the public domain. This video provided by a Christian news channel was the best I could find. You can view previous pieces written by Bibi on this blog and also through Christian advocacy organisations.

The fact remains that Christians fleeing persecution and relocating to western countries are not necessarily safe from violence in their new environments; particularly in communities that choose to resist the very Judeo-Christian principles that form western democracies; instead supplanting it with the norms, behaviours and beliefs of their ancestral homelands. British-born Usman Khan and the murders he committed on London Bridge this month is a sobering example.

Another case example is Pakistani Christian Tajamal Amar, who survived a drive-by shooting in Pakistan and fled to the UK in 2007 on religious grounds.  Yet upon moving to Derby, persecution based on his faith ensued:

several times, local Pakistani people in Derby have taken offence from the fact that I am Christian. When they first find out, many stop talking to me. My wife and I have often been shunned.’

In October 2017, Amar was set upon, badly beaten and hospitalised for openly displaying a crucifix in his car and poppies, in the run-up to Memorial month.

‘On the day of my attack the visible display of a cross in my car and two poppies just below the front bonnet, triggered the violence against me. I know this, because for a few days before the attack the same men, glared at me after they noticed my Christian paraphernalia. I fled from Pakistan to escape violence such as this, but more and more the same violence is coming into Britain.’

The assumption that once Christian families such as Bibi’s and Amar’s live in absolute safety upon leaving countries like Pakistan is incorrect. There are more unknown and unreported cases of asylum-seeking Christians who are forced to experience similar, harrowing anti-Christian persecution. Yet local churches remain largely silent – possibly unaware- local MPs,  authorities and certainly the State, avoid confronting the issue; leaving the absolute safety of those fleeing to the West utterly compromised.

Nor is their suffering limited to physical safety alone. Assimilating and adapting to foreign countries and systemic structures is another challenge. Many Christians who flee persecution, particularly from South Asia are either poorly educated or illiterate. Learning a new language, enrolling into unfamiliar and unrelatable schools, settling into foreign communities and attempting to establish new friendships, working out how to navigate around new cities and areas would all be extremely difficult anyway; without the trauma of recent , violent circumstances.

Depression, PTSD and the pain of separation is common amongst those forced to vacate traditional homelands they are attached to and wouldn’t otherwise leave. In countries such as Pakistan, it is common for Christians to live in their own communities or on streets with other Christian families. To run away from this is to lose support systems they depended on for survival in addition to their faith and  sacrifice friendships, livelihoods and schoolmates. A stripping away of dignity when now placed in situations where they depend on unfamiliar people to get by. Assimilation can take years, but attempting to assimilate when poorly educated or illiterate can go on indefinitely.

Case examples of refuge-seeking Christians in Western countries and pertaining statistics are virtually impossible to know or find, given the imperative to placate them in discretion. But, it is worth bearing in mind that we, as Christians, shouldn’t succumb to complacency in assuming that once they make that transition, their ordeal stops there. Especially if you know of them in your local area.

Their trauma, pain, loss and grief is a daily onslaught and not removed once removed from their countries of origin. In fact , they could be objects of continued persecution in their new communities, with fresh threats of violence; all whilst struggling to cope and survive through refuge seeking in relative safety.

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