Church leaders plead with Home Secretary to save Christian family from deportation

Areeb (L) and Somer Umeed are threatened with deportation to Pakistan.

Church leaders have signed a letter to the Home Secretary pleading with him to save two teenage boys and their parents from being deported back to Pakistan.

The Bakhsh family fled to Scotland after their close friends, pastors Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid were gunned down outside a court in Faisalabad in 2010. They were killed despite being in police custody as they stood trial for blasphemy after being accused of writing a pamphlet criticising the Prophet Muhammad.

Maqsood Bakhsh fled with his wife Parveen and their two young sons, 15-year-old Somer and 13-year-old Areeb, to Glasgow in 2012 after receiving death threats from Islamic extremists.

The family fears that if they are forced to go back to Pakistan, they are at risk of being murdered because of their Christian faith and friendship with the slain pastors.

Their bids for asylum have been repeatedly turned down by the UK Government and they now face deportation back to Pakistan, where Christians suffer intense persecution for their faith.

The Church of Scotland, which has been campaigning on behalf of the family, said the applications for asylum had been turned down because government officials do not believe the family would be at risk if they moved to a different part of Pakistan away from their home in Faisalabad.

However, Mr Bakhsh insists that once Christians are targeted by extremists, nowhere is safe to live.

The Rt Rev Susan Brown, Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, is now pleading with Home Secretary Sajid Javid to re-examine the Bakhsh family's case.

In an open letter also signed by 13 former Moderators and the leaders of other denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church and Scottish Episcopal Church, she warned of the 'Pakistan-wide threat' that the family faces if they are forced to leave the UK.

'The family is a Christian one in a country where such faith constitutes a tiny minority of the whole population,' she said.

'As you will be aware, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan are such that even without substantive evidence, accusations can be made against those not of the Muslim faith.

'Petty disagreements between neighbours for example, can result in people of another faith being accused under the law and lead to their imprisonment or being pursued with the intent to kill.

'This is precisely the reason why this faithful Christian family find themselves in Scotland.'

Mrs Brown went on to say that Somer and Areeb are 'a credit to Scotland, to our education system and along with their parents, have so much to offer our land'.

Mr Bakhsh was a data analyst in Pakistan before fleeing to Scotland, while his wife was a trained midwife with 17 years of experience. However, due to their uncertain status in the UK, they have been unable to work and have had to rely on benefits and charity.

Mrs Brown said the Bakhsh family wanted to contribute their skills to Scotland.

'Suffice to say, they are people who long to give – and they are people who have so much to offer,' she said.

'With all respect, we urge you and through you, the Home Office, to step in and allow this family to play their part in serving a nation they very much feel a part of and want to contribute to.'

Somer and Areeb, who attend Springburn Academy in Glasgow, have both spoken of their desire to remain in Scotland.

Somer said he considered Scotland as his home

'I love Scotland and I do not want to go back to Pakistan. The thought of it terrifies me and it is very stressful to even imagine going back there,' he said.

'I wouldn't have a future and I can't even read or write Urdu. I want to live here in Scotland, it is my country and my home.'

Areeb expressed similar concerns: 'I am so happy living in Scotland and I am scared to go back to Pakistan.

'I am really afraid and I can't imagine living a normal life there. I am so happy living here, I am getting the right education and our lives are not under threat.'

The family attend Possilpark Parish Church in Glasgow, where they are being supported by minister, the Rev Linda Pollock.

She said: 'I hope that the Home Office will re-examine the family's case, stop treating them as numbers and acknowledge them as human beings because they have so much to give to Scotland.

'It is my wish that the Home Secretary and his colleagues will share the wisdom, compassion and good sense of all those who have signed the petition to keep Somer and Areeb in the UK.'

A petition urging the Home Secretary to grant asylum to the Bakhsh family has been signed by over 88,000 people.

The plea to the Home Secretary coincides with a visit to the UK by another Pakistani Christian family experiencing persecution.

The husband and daughter of Asia Bibi have been in the UK on a visit hosted by Aid to the Church in Need to raise awareness of her plight as she fights a death sentence for blasphemy.

The Pakistani Supreme Court reached a verdict on Bibi's appeal this week but has reserved announcing the decision publicly until a later date.

The British Pakistani Christian Association is calling upon the UK Government to grant the family asylum in the event of her release.