Pakistan: Christians denied COVID-19 aid

Pleas to Government to give domestic and sanitary workers gloves and masks 
by John Pontifex.

NGOs and Muslim leaders in Pakistan stand accused of refusing to give COVID-19 emergency aid to Christians and other religious minorities – even though they are among those worst affected by the pandemic.

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a Catholic-run human rights organisation, described reports of religious organisations and mosques making announcements telling Christians not to come forward for food and other emergency handouts. 

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Christians living in '7 lanes' district of Gulshan Iqbal Town, a slum area of Pakistan, came under fire from Muslim extremists (Taliban) and were displaced to this neighbourhood from the tribal area bordering Pakistan. The Christian community erected walls blocking the seven lanes for security after a spate of killings and other violence. Photographer: John Pontifex. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

Speaking to the British branch of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Mr Chaudhry said Christians and other religious minorities were particularly in need of help as many are in the lowest-paid jobs, dependent on daily wages, and on the breadline, with work drying up because of the lockdown. And, stressing how minority women were especially at risk, he called on the Pakistan government to provide masks, gloves and other COVID-19 protective equipment for sanitary workers and domestic workers – many of whom are Christians.

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Khushpur is an almost entirely Christian village in Faisalabad Diocese. Here is situated the St Albert's Catechetical Training Centre and the adjoining literacy centre which serve the whole of Pakistan. Many vocations are from Khushpur. 
Photographer: John Pontifex. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

With Pakistan’s government now easing the lockdown, Mr Chaudhry said he feared a spike in COVID-19 cases especially among Christians and other minorities whose jobs, he said, make them particularly at risk of infection. Mr Chaudhry gave reports of how Christians in a village near Lahore on Raiwind Road had been denied food aid and how, in a separate incident, about 100 Christian families were excluded from food distribution in Sandha Kalan village, in the Punjab’s Kasur district. He said there were reports of COVID-19 emergency aid staff on the ground refusing to give help to non-Muslims as the donations had come as Zakat charitable offerings, in accordance with Islamic Shari‘a law. 

Mr Chaudhry said: “COVID-19 knows no boundaries – everyone is at risk, irrespective of their religion so how can it be fair to deny food and other emergency help to Christians and other minorities, especially when they are among those suffering the most at this time?” The NCJP chief quoted an imam from a mosque in Lahore’s Model Town who, he said, had announced in a recent sermon: “There will be a ration distribution tomorrow morning for needy people but only for Muslims.”

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Brick kilns near Faisalabad: Many Christians do this job which earns very little money and results in them becoming in effect bonded labourers at the mercy of brick kiln owners/landlords. Photographer: John Pontifex. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

Pakistan has 32,819 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, according to latest reports, with 733 deaths, although Mr Chaudhry stressed many cases were going unreported. 

The NCJP chief called on the government to consult with minority groups about COVID-19 response initiatives and to make better use of census data to target aid for the most vulnerable. He said: “Although plans are being worked on, for now we do not know of [any initiatives to include] religious minority members to ensure their needs are not ignored.”

Aid to the Church in Need has in place over AUD $8M COVID-19 emergency aid programme to support the work of the local Churches worldwide.

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