12 Days of Christmas: Asylum Seekers Support Trust – Lives in danger because of what they believe

The Herald is profiling 12 charities awarded $8,333 grants from Auckland Airport’s 12 Days of Christmas programme – now in its 13th year. The $100,000 funding comes from generous travellers who donate money at the airport.

Their lives are in danger because of their beliefs: Imran Pathan fled Dubai because of his Christian faith while Faisal Al Harbi left the Saudi Arabian military to avoid fighting a war in Yemen he believes is unjust.

The pair are receiving support from the Asylum Seekers Support Trust (ASST) which provides basic human needs to people going through the legal process of seeking protection.

Of the 500 people who claim asylum each year, 250 are accepted as refugees.

Imran grew up Muslim in his native Pakistan but decided to convert to Christianity after being given a pamphlet by a missionary.

“I asked my father, who is not a religious person, ‘What is the truth?’ He told me, ‘You find your truth yourself’ so I am reading and searching and at 18 I decided that Jesus Christ would be my Lord,” he says.

Abandoning Islam, or apostasy, is a crime in many Muslim countries. Punishments include shunning, verbal abuse, violence and even – under Sharia law – execution.

Imran’s sister claimed the Prophet Mohammad had appeared to her during meditation and ordered his execution for being ‘murtid’ – an Arabic word for apostates meaning deserter, turncoat or pervert.

“That was really painful for me to hear,” he says.

Soon afterwards he was attacked in the street at night by an unknown assailant but managed to escape.

He moved to Dubai where he concealed his Christianity while working as a civil engineer for nearly a decade before someone told his employer.

“My boss had a problem with that. He forced me to go to a mosque.”

In conservative Islamic states like the United Arab Emirates, apostates can face the death penalty.

Fearing for his life, Imran flew to New Zealand.

“When I first came to ASST I was scared, I had no food and no shelter. They helped me, they protected me. They are very kind and loving. I feel they are angels,” he says.

Imran’s goal is to work in civil engineering again.

“I’ve applied for jobs but unfortunately they’re not interested. They don’t even call me for an interview,” he says, despite speaking fluent English, having a post-graduate degree, a full New Zealand driver’s licence and over a year’s local work experience as a storeman.

“I don’t know why. I want to work. I don’t want to be a beggar,” he says.

In the meantime, he attends ASST’s social engagement programme.

Co-ordinator Ibrahim Ossman says they provide weekly meals and outings to local markets, museums, beaches, gardens and educational institutions to help asylum seekers gain an understanding of New Zealand life.

Another attendee is 25-year-old Faisal who left behind his family in Saudi Arabia.

They are all in military service and cannot understand his refusal to fight a war in Yemen he believes is unfair and unnecessary.

The punishment for desertion is jail or even the death penalty.

Faisal has found loneliness difficult because of the language barrier.

Through ASST he has made friends and enrolled in government-funded English lessons.

He plans to train as a nurse and meanwhile volunteers for ASST, distributing food parcels to other refugees.

To donate to ASST click here.

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