No Respite

The Sri Lankan government has yet to release the 142 Pakistani asylum seekers detained, and with the threat of deportation hanging ominously above their heads, over 1400 Pakistanis from minority groups fear that the faint hope of escaping from persecution in Pakistan was too good to be true. While the Sri Lankan government is skeptical of whether the threat against the lives of these people is real, a quick look at the Pakistani constitution and any recent newspaper will give numerous examples of how blasphemy laws, sectarian conflict, rampant militancy and the mindset of the majority combine to make minority rights little more than a bit of idealism and fluff.

Sri Lanka’s laws do not let asylum seekers settle, but a deal signed with the UNHCR in 2005 allows the refugee organisation to process their applications and find places for relocation, which means that Sri Lanka has no right to threaten them with deportation. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights expressly states that every individual has a right to seek asylum away from one’s own country if they face persecution on racial, religious, political or any other illegitimate reason. If Sri Lanka does start deporting asylum seekers, all those that are sent back will be in even greater danger. And just what will they come back to? The 1400 that left the country have no homes, jobs or anything to fall back on which means the Sri Lankan government is condemning these people to a life sentence of grief, discrimination, and possibly death.

However, while Sri Lanka’s move is abhorrent, our Foreign Offices spokesperson Tasnim Aslam went a step further by her indifference towards the issue, more or less stating that since these people had tried to obtain asylum by ‘badmouthing’ Pakistan, what happened to them was of no concern to her or the country at large. Her concern for Pakistan’s image over the plight of minorities gives a small window into why those that sought asylum did so at all. Our spokesperson’s apathy reflects the mindset of the general public, and how the state has not only failed in protecting minority interests, but has proactively participated in curtailing their rights. A spokesperson that is too obtuse to admit the mistakes of the past is not fit to represent the country, for if the state propagates such views, society will never overcome its shortcomings, and our failed attempts at trying to sweep everything under the carpet will only lead to more transgressions of the most fundamental human rights.

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