Insecurity follows Iranian asylum-seekers in Pakistan

Published: August 16, 2011
Refugees face persecution after abandoning homeland.

Refugees face persecution after abandoning homeland.

ISLAMABAD: Zohreh* had believed Iranian police will help her find her missing husband. But her problems only multiplied from when she went to ask them for assistance.

“They said he was in another station. I went with them but instead of taking me to my husband, they took me to another location,” Zohreh says. “Police officials tortured me and raped me. I was left there, helpless to find my way back home.”

Pakistan was the only country that Zohreh, who lived in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, could afford to move to. And so she did in 2001, along with her sons Moustapha*, 12, and Raza*, 10. Her husband, she said, was arrested because of his support for the Shah of Iran and she decided to leave Iran fearing more trouble because of her husband’s opposition to the government. To ensure her children’s security, she divorced her husband before leaving for Pakistan.

“I had heard about people seeking refuge in Islamabad and finding asylum in the West through the United Nations office,” Zohreh said. She asked a friend in Iran to make papers and crossed the border from Balochistan. From there, she and her children travelled to Islamabad with the help of a local fixer.

In the beginning, the United Nations office in Pakistan was very unhelpful. But five years later, her plea for asylum was accepted and she was granted refugee status in Pakistan. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which pays her a monthly stipend of Rs12,000, promised that they will resettle them in 2007 but the family is still waiting.

As she felt more and more burdened with problems, Zohreh turned to religion. But her painful experience with the Islamic regime in Iran worried and troubled her. Two years after migrating to Pakistan, she decided to convert to Christianity. But as she found solace in her newly-adopted religion, those around her refused to respect her choice.

In 2009, Moustapha got into trouble at the local market when some of his Muslim friends asked him to accompany them for prayers at the mosque. “When he told them he was Christian, they asked him why he has a Muslim name,” Zohreh said. When he explained that he used to be Muslim, his friends detained him and threatened to harm him and his family if he did not convert back to Islam.

A few days later, the car Moustapha drives was stolen and letter was sent to the family that read: “O you unbelievers, more and more people are converting to Islam, while you quit this religion. This is just the beginning of what we can do. We stole the car and burnt it. Next we are going to destroy your family and make sure we kill all non-believers like you. Islam is our strength and that is why a Muslim can go to any length to protect it.”

Zohreh reported the case to the UNHCR who refused to take her seriously. “They say they have many such cases where Iranians converted but are not being threatened,” she says. Since then, the family has constantly been on the move, shifting homes every three to four months.

When contacted, the UNHCR said it does not divulge information on individual cases but did concede that they are aware of many cases where Iranians seeking asylum in Pakistan convert to Christianity. “It makes it easier for them to claim refugee status and conversion makes their plea stronger,” an official said, requesting anonymity.

According to UNHCR, they have received over a thousand applications in the past one year alone from Iranians seeking asylum. But fewer than a hundred cases have been considered due to issues with verification and authenticity of claims.

But for Zohreh, despite all the disappointment, the UNHCR is her only hope. “I want my children to be safe. I lived a miserable life but I want their future to be secure,” she says.

*Names have been withheld to protect privacy

Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Ravinder Chatwal
    Aug 16, 2011 - 10:50AM

    The dis-ease is spreading east-wards.
    Have the Iranis not learnt anything
    since the routing of the Sassanids in the 7th century AD?
    And also, from the subsequent succession of the Abbasids?
    They keep on losing talent and good citizens,
    because of their intransigence and foolish insistence
    on a faked homogeneity. What is the gain to Iranian culture?
    But, the sub-continent and Iran have been sister civilisations,
    longer than any others in the world history.
    For five millennia, we have exchanged ideas and people.
    This seems like a continuum of the same traffic.
    When Humayun was at risk in India, he went to Persia.
    When the Zoroastrians were persecuted in Persia,
    they found home and safe harbour in India.
    Thank god, without that, we wouldn’t have the greats like
    Tatas, Wadias and Bhabha, amongst others.
    May god grant them safety, who are being forced out
    and prosecuted. I hope Pakistan, won’t turn them away.


  • aftab malik
    Aug 16, 2011 - 11:31AM

    does it really serve islam to force people at gunpoint to convert to islam? shouldn’t people become muslims by their own free will? this forced zabardasti ka muslim banana doesn’t do anyone any good,the person being terrorised to become muslim only does so to save his/her life,on the inside they’ll never accept it but always remember that i was forced to become muslim by threats and intimidation.


  • sanjithmenon
    Aug 16, 2011 - 12:20PM

    Ha Persia? if you did not have oil, with your talents you would have been the Japan of the middle east. Let the oil end, and then a new era will start.


  • Sabeen Syed
    Aug 16, 2011 - 12:47PM

    Very Depressing- but the Question is are Muslims in Pakistan Safe? arnt they killing eachother as well?


  • hussain naqshbandi
    Aug 16, 2011 - 6:19PM

    This story is all to familiar. There are loads of people here in the UK who falsly claim to convert to christianity or claim to be homosexual in order to claim asylum in a western country. Little do they realise the consequences of their actions.


  • Aug 16, 2011 - 6:46PM

    This woman had the mirage of the west at heart and chose the most odd path to achieve her goal with the help of her ignorant friends even now she has elusion Recommend

  • Aug 16, 2011 - 7:46PM

    Somewhere in the corner of Pakistan … A murtad woman (convert from Islam) gets ill treated .. and ET decides to do a post … which side are you on ET … because whichever it is … you’re not gonna win :)


  • Aug 16, 2011 - 8:46PM

    This story is very fishy. Having lived in Europe my whole life, I can attest that people usually do this in order to gain asylum in European countries.
    If she can prove to the UNHCR that her life in Pakistan is in danger, they will have to assist in moving her out of the country…. probably the west.


  • mk
    Aug 16, 2011 - 9:14PM

    extremely sad story!! I hope Pakistanis treat these guests with utmost hospitality which is inherent in us. And whoever threatened and stole the car of this poor lady’s family should face the full wrath of justice! We Pakistanis will not let extremist Islam find any refuge in our country – let the message be loud and clear, our patience is being tested..end your dramas before you are forced to capitulate to the nation’s will.


  • Ghazanfar Naqvi
    Aug 16, 2011 - 9:35PM

    Another CIA funded story to diminish Iran’s image. Nothing new.


  • Aug 17, 2011 - 1:49AM

    @Ghazanfar: CIA funding…!!! That’s one of the best comments I have ever gotten dear. I’m thoroughly amused.


  • Ali
    Aug 17, 2011 - 7:05AM


    Religion is there to bring peace not to make people’s lives miserable. Muslims need to understand that they are not the ‘thekedar’ of Islam. These so called Muslims need to be lashed.


  • no one
    Aug 18, 2011 - 6:06PM

    every one should be free to choose his religion and when religion become compulsory and forsfully this chages will happen this is what Islamic government of Iran did to people made peaple hatefull frome religion.


  • Karachi Se ...
    Aug 19, 2011 - 10:27AM

    @no one:
    “In reality, there are as many religions as there are individuals”
    -Mahatma Gandhi.

    There is one Allah, but the way we each live our faith,
    is unique to us and us alone. For us, to expect, everyone to be the same,
    and exact, as well as exacting to a supposed golden standard
    of religiosity and spirituality, is a mirage and delusion.
    When, this is the expected, standard norm, then fundamentalism takes over.


  • Mir Agha
    Aug 19, 2011 - 3:02PM

    I look forward to an expose of the horrors Kashmiri refugees faced in Indian occupied Kashmir or the plight of Afghan refugees who escaped US terror in their homeland. Can ET do real investigative journalism?


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