By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Pakistani authorities prevented more than one thousand "persecuted" Christians from fleeing Pakistan and hundreds of Christian asylum seekers have been detained in Sri Lanka, a well-informed source told BosNewsLife Sunday, June 29.
"Pakistani authorities intercepted Christians who were travelling to join flights bound for Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong," said Farrukh H.Saif, executive director of Pakistani based human rights group World Vision In Progress (WVIP).
"More than 1000 Pakistani Christians were illegally removed from their confirmed flights from Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore airports," in recent months he added. "It was the first step to end this mass exodus".
Christian refugees who managed to arrive in Sri Lanka have reportedly been targeted as well. Local media reported that the Sri-Lankan Immigration and Investigation police started joint operation against Pakistani Christian asylum seekers. They reportedly detained hundreds of Asylum seekers in recent weeks.
The Christians were to be deported because of their alleged involvement in "anti-state activities" in India and Pakistan.
"This action was against basic international norms and principles which state that the host country receiving such refugees cannot arrest anyone who is registered with [the UN's refugee agency] UNHCR" unless a specific request in sent via [international police organization] Interpol," Saif explained.
"The action of by the Sri-Lankan authorities was therefore illegal under international law. It seems that something sinister might be taking place behind the scenes to ensure that Pakistani asylum seekers are deported back to their country of origin."
Sri Lankan and Pakistani officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but BosNewsLife has spoken with several Christians claiming persecution in Pakistan.
Many of them are targeted for alleged blasphemy against Islam, Pakistan's main religion, authorities have acknowledged.
"Hundreds of cases were registered against the Christians and other religious groups in Pakistan. After knowing the gravity of the situation , religious minorities started relocation from Pakistan," Saif said.
He said thousands of Pakistani Hindus took refuge in India "whereas Christians, Ahmadi’s, Shia and other religious groups reached East Asia and South Asia registered themselves with the UNHCR, "with a trust that they will be moved to some save country where they can enjoy equal rights."
He said the "Christian exodus" increased since 2009 when “Christian colonies villages and neighborhoods” in Punjab province were attacked by “Muslim extremists.”
He recalled that hundreds of houses were torched and several people "were burnt alive."
Hundreds of Christians from Gojra and Korian village fled from Pakistan and took refuge in Sri-Lanka, Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia "in order to preserve their lives and avoid future persecution."
He said more Christians tried to leave after in March 2013 Islamists attacked a Christian area in Lahore city.
"According to our own survey there are 14,000 Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in East Asia and South Asia."
Saif accused Pakistan's government of "failing" to protect Christians and instead prevents them and other religious minorities from leaving reaching "the relative safety of neighbouring countries."
When "the Pakistani Government has failed to save its own sensitive installations from the terrorists, how can they
protect the vulnerable and defenseless religious minorities from terrorist organizations?," he wondered.
He said his group has urged the international community to help end "persecution in Pakistan" and the reported crackdown on Christian asylum seekers in Sri Lanka.