When Your Country is a Prison – Ahmed’s Story #RefugeeStories

Photo by Glen Noble via Unsplash

It was early afternoon and my wife, the kids, and I were in North Carolina, preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving with Maile’s family. I had to hide away in one of the upstairs bedrooms to find a quiet place to make the call.

I had emailed back and forth with Ahmed but we hadn’t spoken yet. The entire time I listened to his story I could hear the hum of laughter and shouting from the rest of my in-laws’ house. The holidays were in full swing for us. His story reminded me that in many parts of the world, the approach of Christmas means something else entirely.

Here is Ahmed’s story.

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I live outside Philadelphia now with my wife and my five-year-old daughter. I’d rather you didn’t use my real name. Perhaps you could just refer to me as Ahmed.

Conditions here are much better than where I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan. There are over 23 million people in Karachi, and it’s the second largest city in the world. I was born and raised there and my life was always life in the big city. Everything there is very busy. Very hectic.

98% of the people in Pakistan are Muslim. The remaining 2% are other religions. My parents, my grandparents, all of my ancestors – they were Christians. I am a Christian, too, and that made it very difficult for me in my city.

What happened to me there? So many things. I worked as a lab technician in a hospital after graduating, and I was the only Christian there. My supervisors made it very difficult for me. They thought that I should convert to Islam, but I am satisfied as a Christian.

“That’s not possible for me,” I told them, and this turned them against me. That’s when things got much worse.

There is a law in Pakistan against blasphemy. If someone says a bad word against the prophet or the holy book, or if someone tries to convert someone to anything besides Islam, this is punishable by beheading. Not all Muslims there are like this, but some of them pull a few words from the Koran to justify this. The people I worked with threatened me, threatened to use this law against me. Then someone published an article in a religious paper that I was propogating Christianity, trying to convert Muslims, and this simply was not true. But I knew if certain people read that article, it would not be good for me.

Religious scholars put out a fatwa against me, which technically means it is their religious duty to catch me and kill me. Anyone. Not necessarily the officials. Anyone. They wouldn’t wait for legal procedures. They would do it themselves.

Many Christians live in Pakistan in fear.

A few years ago I applied to US universities and was accepted, but it is not easy getting out of Pakistan. The country is like a prison for us. You’re not welcome there, and you’re not always free to leave. If you apply for a passport, you might get one, you might not. If you apply for a visa, you might get one, you might not. You often must bribe officials simply to get on the plane to leave.

But even Christian countries don’t always welcome Christian Pakistanis. Christians living in Muslim countries are often caught between.

I will graduate from the university this December. I hope I can stay here after that. I applied for asylum through Church World Service and am now waiting for the interview.

It is not easy to go to church in Pakistan. You have to be very careful. My wife likes it here for that reason – she is free here to go to church whenever she wants. She likes it in the US. My daughter, too, is happy here. She is comfortable.

We don’t face any problems here in the US. Everyone is kind to us. I’m comfortable with my classmates and teachers. I was able to get work authorization which makes things much better for us.

So I’m waiting for an interview call. Once that is scheduled then something will be clear for me. Right now, nothing. I don’t know what my future will be.

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Other refugee stories:

A Muslim Refugee in Amish Country – Miriam’s Story

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Church World Service helps refugees like Ahmed with many things: relocation, integration into society, finding employment and housing, and covering their legal fees to apply for asylum, immigration, and green cards. Asylum applicants who have a lawyer representing them have a 70% success rate; those who do not have representation experience only a 17% success rate.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Will you give $10, $20, $50, $100 or more to help cover the legal costs for asylum-seekers like Ahmed? If you can do that, please go HERE to make a donation towards CWS’ legal services.
  • CWS is in need of local family law attorneys willing to take on cases like Ahmed’s pro bono. If you are willing to do this, please email me.
  • Would you be willing to get to know the refugees who live close to you and be part of a team who supports them as they try to start over in a new place? If so, please email me!
  • Like the Church World Service Facebook page.