UK Government criticised over asylum rejection for Pakistani Christian family

Teenage brothers Somer and Areeb Umeed Bakhsh, originally from Pakistan, have been living in Scotland for seven yearsChurch of Scotland

A senior leader in the Church of Scotland has strongly criticised the UK Government's refusal to grant asylum to a Pakistani Christian family that has been living in Glasgow for the last seven years. 

The Very Rev Susan Brown, who just ended her year as Moderator of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly, said she was "angered and exasperated" by the UK Government's treatment of people who are genuinely seeking refuge on British shores. 

In an address to the General Assembly meeting in Edinburgh this week, she appealed to the UK Government to show compassion to Maqsood and Parveen Bakhsh and their two teenage sons, Somer and Areeb. 

The Christian family fled Faisalabad, in Pakistan, in 2012 after Mr Bakhsh received death threats from Islamic extremists because of his Christian faith. 

The family say they will be in danger if they return to Pakistan because they have been marked by Islamic extremists who have killed people they know, including two friends gunned down outside a courtroom while in police custody and an uncle of Mr Bakhsh who was killed on his doorstep shortly after returning from the US where he had lived for 20 years. 

Mrs Brown urged the Home Office to make the "same compassionate offer" to the Bakhsh family as it gave to orphaned 11-year-old asylum seeker Giorgi Kakava, originally from Georgia, who was given temporary leave to remain in the UK following a campaign led by the Rev Brian Casey, minister of Springburn Parish Church in Glasgow. 

"They have been in Scotland for seven years and the boys are well integrated into their school and are much loved students," she said. 

"The whole family are very involved in their local church and Maqsood is an elder and a commissioner to this Assembly."

Mrs Brown, who is minister of Dornoch Cathedral in the north of Scotland, said: "I have been to Pakistan, admittedly only one small corner of it, but every church we went to, there was an armed guard and any posters advertising my visit could only be put up on the day for fear of threat.

"Our Government says Pakistan is a safe place for Christians. Our world is not ours, but God's. Created for the whole of humanity. Together. God's heart is big enough to hold everyone, ours needs to be too."

An online petition started by the family's minister, Rev Linda Pollock of Possilpark Parish Church in Glasgow, has been signed by over 80,000 people.

The petition was submitted to the Home Office last August, at which time immigration minister Caroline Noakes said the family's case would be reviewed.  A decision has yet to be made.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in attendance at the General Assembly as Mrs Brown delivered her speech. 

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament last September, Ms Sturgeon indicated support for the family's asylum case. 

"They are an absolute credit to their parents, their school, their community and indeed they are a credit to Scotland," she said. 

"The Scottish Government will continue to look at what appropriate representations we can make."