Can I Apply for U.S. Asylum If I'm From Pakistan?

Religious persecution is the main source of asylum claims from Pakistan, but proving one's case can be a challenge.

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The number of refugees fleeing Pakistan has been rising in recent years (with 66% more Pakistanis having sought asylum in 2011 than in 2010, for example). (See “Asylum-seekers around the world: where did they come from and where are they going?” from The Guardian's Datablog.) Pakistan is actually the number one country of origin for refugees fleeing to England. (See “13,000 Indians applied for asylum in the last 2 years,” by Kounteya Sinha, March 24, 2014.)

What about the situation for people from Pakistan seeking asylum in the United States? This article will discuss the trends and possibilities.

Do Many People Gain Asylum From Pakistan?

Pakistan was designated a “Country of Concern” by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for 2014. In its report, the Commission states, “Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S government as countries of particular concern.” The report finds “chronic sectarian violence” targeting Shia Muslims, Christians, Ahmadies, and Hindus.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has the second largest Muslim majority of any country. Most Pakistani Muslims are Sunni, while 20% of the population is Shia and the remaining 5% comprises Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus. (See Refworld, "UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Members of Religious Minorities from Pakistan,” May 14, 2012.)

Approximately 700 Shia were killed in Pakistan from 2013 to 2014. Police have shown an unwillingness or inability to protect the Shia community, who are often targeted by Sunni fundamentalists groups.

Christians are also targeted. For instance, 100 Christians were killed in a suicide attack in Peshawar in September 2013. Militant organizations and everyday Muslims both have a history of targeting Christians, whom they believe are in violation of blasphemy laws.

Pakistan also has a long and bloody history of attacks against Ahmadis. Considered “non-Muslims,” Ahmadis suffer from state-sanctioned discrimination including a prohibition on worshiping and voting. (See U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report 2014.)

Ahmadis are often denied permission to build places of worship, and existing Ahmadi mosques are often destroyed. Two laws explicitly restrict the activities of Ahmadi, including a prohibition forbidding Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim. (See Ordinance No. XX of 1984, Sections 298B and 298C.)

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Pakistan?

Most claims from Pakistan are filed on account of religious persecution. Ahmadis, Shias Mulsims, and Christians all file asylum claims in the U.S. and elsewhere.

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims From Pakistan?

U.S. immigration judges and asylum officers often deny Pakistani claims based on religious persecution because they do not believe the applicant belongs to the proposed religion. Officers will often question an asylum applicant about religious doctrine, denying the claim if the applicant answers in a way that is inconsistent with what the officer learned while researching the case.

Judges and officers also deny claims if the applicant cannot demonstrate that, given that the claims are likely to be made concerning persecution by a non-government actor, the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to protect them.

A third reason why a judge or officer may deny a religious asylum claim is because the applicant did not prove that he or she could not live safely in another location in Pakistan. Judges and officers have seen numerous fraudulent letters from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the U.S. affirming that the applicant is Ahmadi, further feeding the belief that Sunni Muslims pretend to be Ahmadi in order to win asylum in the United States.

What Can Pakistanis Do to Increase Chances of a Successful Asylum Claim?

First and foremost, Ahmadi applicants should not submit any fraudulent documents along with the asylum claim. If you don’t have a letter from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, do not submit a fraudulent one — simply explain why you don’t have one. Ahmadis should have their religious affiliation designated in the Pakistani passport, and should submit a copy of the passport in this case.

An applicant filing claims based on religious persecution should be prepared to answer questions about the religion. These questions may be simple or detailed. If you don’t have in depth knowledge about your religion, be prepared to explain why you don’t. Applicants should explain to the judge or officer why a persecutor would be motivated to harm him or her and how the persecutor would know the person's religion.

Always offer testimony that is detailed, consistent, and plausible. If you were persecuted or fear persecution on account of your religion, explain exactly what happened to you and why. Make sure you include any statements made by the persecutor that led you to believe the incident was based on your religion.

In addition, be sure to explain why the police will not or cannot protect you. And give reasons why you could not relocate within Pakistan — most likely either because the persecutor would find you or because it would be unreasonable for you to live in a different place.

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