Thailand: Friends in detention
10 October 2011

People detained in Bangkok's Immigration Detention Centre wait to get tested for tuberculosis.
I was kidnapped. Religious extremists took me from my home, claiming they were the only true Muslims.
Bangkok, 10 October 2011 –  In the name of Allah, the Gracious and Merciful.

I have been living in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) with my wife and three small children since December, when we were arrested while sleeping in our home. We were considered illegal migrants after overstaying our visa while we were seeking asylum in Thailand. Luckily, since our arrest we have finished our refugee status determination and have been accepted as refugees.

I am an Ahmadi Muslim from Pakistan. Since 1974 we Ahmadi people have lived with fewer rights that other Muslim groups. In 1984, there were constitutional amendments passed that made us more than just second-class citizens, but an actual persecuted group. While, according to Islam, Ahmadhis are no different than other Muslims, the government of Pakistan saw it differently and actively supported our persecution. Since then, government officials, Mullahs (religious leaders) and average citizens of Pakistan have been making it unsafe and almost impossible to live there. The Ahmadi people, individually and collectively, are suffering in Pakistan.

I faced this persecution daily over the last several years, but it reached its peak when I was kidnapped. Religious extremists took me from my home, claiming they were the only true Muslims and Ahmadis like myself were heretics. They forced me to change my religion and held me prisoner for 30 days because no one could afford to pay the outrageous ransom money they demanded.

Forced to flee

At that point, I knew being an Ahamdi Muslim in Pakistan was impossible. I had to flee with my family. I decided to come to Thailand because this is where the UNHCR regional headquarters is. I thought that the process of resettlement would be faster here than other countries. I left my homeland and arrived in Bangkok August 2009.

When I had my initial interview with UNHCR in 2009, I found out that surviving in Bangkok during the refugee status determination process would not be easy. It is an expensive city for a family of five, especially when we are not legally allowed to work without a work permit or a valid visa.

Luckily, UNHCR provided shelter to my family and assisted us as much as they could. Through UNHCR, I also came in contact with other NGOs supporting asylum seekers and refugees. Unable to work or support my family and community I felt unhappy and worried for my future. 

Then I met JRS. JRS, through its Urban Refugee Programme, assisted me in many ways. I went to them and told them about how I, among other people in our community, had nothing to do with our days as we waited for news from UNHCR. JRS supported my community with an Ahmadi Community Centre where we could gather and educate our children and ourselves. I was in charge of the education, having our children come to the centre to learn English and other basic studies during the week. We were keeping busy and hopeful, and nearly everybody in the community was grateful for the centre. Although we were considered illegal and couldn’t get work, with the friendship I formed with JRS, I was able to survive in Thailand.

Making it work in Bangkok

Luckily, my life here was a bit better simply because I was able to speak some English. I was able to get a job. With this job, I was able to better support my family.

Unfortunately, the work and the community centre came to an end in December 2010. My family, long with 50 other members of our community were arrested and detained. 

While some people decided to return to Pakistan after they were arrested, I remain here with my family. In March, I was accepted as a refugee, and now I await resettlement. And it is here in detention that my best, old friend JRS, has been assisting me, my wife and our three small children. The JRS staff here are helpful to us and cooperative with our needs. The main problems in IDC are health and food related, but JRS provides a medical clinic and supplemental food for the detainees.

I’d like to thank all officials of JRS inside and outside IDC who have supported my family. They are good people who have been very encouraging. I am thankful to the legal officers who have assisted me with my case and those who have visited me in IDC. Still today, after five months, people still visit me and I am very thankful.

Thank you so much. May God grant you more and more blessings.

In March 2011, the author and his family were accepted as refugees. They have since been released from the detention centre on bail and are awaiting resettlement.