By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Christians and other minorities in Pakistan face starvation as they are denied food aid for refusing to convert to Islam, aid workers say. The Emergency Committee to Save the Persecuted and Enslaved (ECSPE) confirmed that authorities and government-backed groups halt supplies to non-Muslims despite a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Islamic foundations that are well-funded by Pakistan’s government force them to embrace Islam. Otherwise, they cannot receive aid during this coronavirus pandemic,” said ECSPE’s co-founder Farrukh Saif. Islam is the dominant religion in Pakistan. “Especially Christians and Hindus face extreme discrimination in Pakistan,” Saif told BosNewsLife.
Teams of ECSPE, a US-based aid group working in Pakistan, reported incidents in Karachi and other parts of the country, Saif added. In one of the latest known episodes, more than 100 Christian families from Sandha Kalan village in Kasur district of Pakistan’s Punjab province did not receive food aid, according to Christian aid workers, familiar with the situation. A cleric at the local mosque decided on April 5 that the food aid would be only for Muslim families, Christians said.
Separately, video footage posted on social media purportedly showed how Christians were denied food aid on April 2 in a Raiwind Road village, near Lahore. Christians were reportedly forced to leave the mosque compound as the food aid was for Muslims.
Saif confirmed to BosNewsLife that ECSPE learned that one of the Islamic groups involved in aid distribution, Saylani Welfare International Trust, refused to distribute food among Christians and Hindus. The Trust reportedly claimed that religious minorities were excluded from aid under Sharia law, the strict interpretation of Islam.
The tensions come while most of Pakistan has been placed on lockdown since March 21 as authorities seek to slow the spread of the new coronavirus disease COVID-19.
Saif stressed that the national lockdown and food denials added to the suffering of the mainly impoverished Christians and other minorities.
“Some 70 percent of the Christians scrape by with hard labor on their daily wages,” he explained. “They now face a dire situation where they cannot even afford to fulfill the basic needs of their families. The only option for food is if they accept Islam.”
Nearly half of Pakistan’s total population of almost 234 million live below the poverty line, earning most of their income through daily labor jobs, according to aid groups. Saif and other Christian aid workers warn that the national lockdown has cut off many of these workers from earning daily wages and that reports of starvation are already circulating.
He said his group was asked to help provide aid to at least hundreds of families, especially in the Sindh and Punjab regions. “Currently, we are working on supplying these food packages to Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities. We are also raising funds for this aim, and even small gifts are welcome,” he said.