Safe Christian refuge sought for two Pakistani


Shams Tahir Khokhar and his brother Moon are on the run seeking refuge in Taranaki from anti-Christian sentiment in their homeland – Pakistan.

The move comes following a series of life-threatening incidents.

Shams, a former youth worker dedicated to promoting interfaith harmony, and his brother became the targets of a violent attack earlier this year.

The brothers were riding to church on a motorbike when they were shot at and forced off the road.

Miraculously, they escaped with only minor injuries.

Moon thinks he and his brother became a target after attending an interfaith conference.

Illustrating the ongoing threats their family faces in Pakistan, Moon said that their brother-in-law was attacked last month.

“He was going to drop his kids at school, and he was attacked. And they took his bike.”

Seeking refuge

The brothers’ decision to leave Pakistan was a matter of survival.

Shams says the incident convinced them it was time to leave their homeland.

“We were scared because you are going out and always looking here and there.

“All the time we’re going to many conferences speaking for our people, but the situation is getting worse and Christian people are trying to get out of the country, to go to Europe or America.”

Religious discrimination

Intolerance for Christian religions is taking its toll. In August 28 churches were burned and demolished in Pakistan, Shams says.

“89 Christian houses were burned and 25 were looted. On that night, people slept in fields and they demolished a Christian graveyard.”

Christians are often unfairly targeted in relation to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, Shams says.

“Everyone knows” it’s often misused against Christians and other minorities “but still nothing practical is done.”

Only five percent of university students can come from the Christian, Hindu or Sikh minority groups, Shams says.

“At university you have to give big money and Christians don’t have big money … there’s a derogatory word for Christian students, chura. It means dirty.”

Sometimes advertisements for people to manually clean sewers stipulate only Christians can apply, he says.

About two percent of Pakistan’s population is Christian – and 80 percent of its sanitary workers.

Waiting and hoping

While the Kokhar brothers wait for their applications for asylum to be considered, they give back to the New Plymouth community by volunteering at their church and with the RSA.

They’ll seek paid work in any job if their asylum applications are accepted.

“I was working on religious harmony over there because this is the only thing we think can make a bit of difference.

“It’s a huge thing to leave family and friends, but we’re not going to have a long life over there.”


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