By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– An Afghan Christian widow and three of her daughters faced possible deportation from India to their homeland Friday, January 20, despite concerns they may be killed or jailed for “apostasy”, after a UN agency reportedly refused to grant them refugee status.
The Christians, whose names were not disclosed for security reasons, received a deportation notice from the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs after their first application for asylum was rejected by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in October 2009, according to rights activists. .
The mother and her three daughters reapplied for the status in July 2011 along with a child of a fourth, widowed daughter. “However only the widowed daughter and grandchild were accepted…The others are no longer permitted to correspond with the UNHCR office and are currently living in India as illegal immigrants,” explained Christian rights group International Christian Concern (ICC). .
“All members of the family left Afghanistan for the same reason, all of them are Christians, and all are facing the same kind of problem,” added Obaid S. Christ, a pastor and leader of the Afghan Christian community in New Delhi, in published remarks.
“If two members of the same family are recognized as refugees and four others are denied, there is definitely something wrong with the UNHCR judgment system. We believe that the UNHCR office blindly closed their application without making any inquiry, investigation, or considering the new facts and real danger that these women are facing back in their home country,” Pastor Christ said.
ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, Aidan Clay, told BosNewsLife he was concerned about the Christians safety. “Deporting the Christian widow and her three daughters back to Afghanistan will lead to inevitable hardship, if not imprisonment or even death.”
He recalled that last year, “at least two Christians in Afghanistan were imprisoned by (President Hamid) Karzai’s administration, [while] another was brutally beheaded by the [militant] Taliban group.” Nearly all Afghan Christians, Clay said, “live in fear” of persecution. “There is no evidence to suggest that the situation for Christians is improving, but every indication that it is only getting worse.”
Last year, the U.S. State Department said there were no Christian churches left standing in Afghanistan after local courts backed the destruction of the last known church building in the troubled nation, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
Clay said his group has urged the UNHCR to “immediately reopen and approve this family’s” applications for asylum. There was no immediate comment from the UNHCR.
The organization previously came under pressure in June 2011, after reportedly rejecting applications of eight Afghan Christian families who said they fled persecution in their homeland.
As the widow and her three daughters, all eight families were reportedly denied asylum for allegedly failing to meet a UNHCR stature saying that a person can receive refugee status if “[he or she has a] well-founded fear of persecution by reason of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion…”
Two of the eight cases have since been accepted, two have been closed, and other cases have yet to be reopened, according to Christian rights investigators.
In Washington, U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan urged Congress last year to back his amendment to pressure the UNHCR to provide religious freedom training for its staff to “prevent future grief for refugees on religious freedom grounds.”
Despite reported persecution, there may be as many as 10.000 Christian converts in heavily Islamic Afghanistan, according to some Christian rights activists. Other issued figures range from as few as 500 to 8,000 Christians in a country where openly expressing Christian views can reportedly lead to killings by officials, militants or family members.