It still may take up to two years for members of Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship Church to bring a Christian Pakistani family to the Valley from Thailand.
After spending several weeks in Thailand in January and February as part of ongoing efforts to bring the five-member Javed family to Canada, pastor Norm Sowden said the church is still waiting for Immigration Canada to process the family’s immigration papers.
Sowden said he and Charles Lukas, a church member who accompanied him on the trip, tried to visit the Canadian embassy in Bangkok in an effort to expedite the process, but were turned away and told they must contact the embassy in Singapore with their concerns.
“They wouldn’t even let us upstairs in the embassy where the offices were,” he said.
“There are currently thousands of people in Thailand fleeing persecution in neighbouring countries. What we need is for the Canadian government to begin treating these people like citizens of Syria about five years ago who were fleeing from the war in their country and shorten the immigration process from several years to just three to five months.”
The Javed family was forced to flee their native Pakistan because they hid pastor Sarfraz Sagar, the religious leader at that country’s Lighthouse Pentecostal Church, which they attended, in their home due to fear for his life from Muslim militants.
The pastor was able to flee to Thailand before being captured by the group, but when Azhar Javed, the family’s father, became aware that he and his family had also been targeted by the militant group for hiding Sagar, the family fled to Thailand as well, as refugees, before they were captured.
But their visitor’s visa eventually expired and Azhar had been detained by Thai authorities for more than two years in Bangkok’s decrepit and overcrowded Immigration Detention Centre before being sent to another centre outside the capital, while his family continues to hide to avoid extradition back to Pakistan.
“The family’s situation is increasingly desperate,” Sowden said.
“The children can’t go to school, or a hospital if they are sick, and have to stay in most of the time for fear of getting picked up by the authorities and incarcerated themselves. The mother, Aysia, who is a nurse, spends all her time cleaning houses for money for food and rent. She’s under a lot of pressure.”
As for the father, Azhar, Sowden said that while he’s living in squalid conditions while in detention, he still manages to lead bible studies and prayer times at the centre.
“We were only allowed to talk to him just a few times at the facility while we were there,” he said.
“I was touched when he told us not to worry about him, just to keep helping his family and pray the immigration papers will be processed soon and the family can come to the Valley.”
Sowden said now that’s he’s back home, he’ll continue his efforts to have the family’s immigration papers expedited by the Canadian government, and he is scheduling a meeting with Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, to discuss the issue, and encourages other people to contact their MPs as well.
Sowden also spent some time in a hospital in Koh Samui, Thailand, after contracting a strain of the H1N1 flu virus, the most common flu virus that circulates each year.
He said he was “incredibly happy and thrilled” with the medical personnel at the facility.
“I have only good things to say about the quality of medical care I received while there,” Sowden said.