|Thailand: Preparing for resettlement|
(Bangkok) September 9, 2011 – "I won’t believe I am truly leaving until I am sitting on the plane," Az said, just days before leaving Thailand in July for resettlement in the United States.
His trepidation is understandable. After fleeing Pakistan nearly three years ago Az Bhatti has been waiting for something concrete. First, he was waiting for his refugee status, which took six months. Then he was waiting for acceptance to a resettlement country. Then he was waiting for two security clearances. Then plane tickets.
Now, he is simply waiting for the wheels of the plane to leave the runway, taking him not only from one country another, but from apprehension to certainty.
Az came to Thailand after his religious beliefs made it unsafe to live in Pakistan.
"I was praying in a Mosque and my name came over the loudspeaker. A mainstream Muslim man came up to me and said, ‘this is your last chance to convert or else next time I see you, I’ll shoot you,’" Az said.
As an Ahmadi Muslim, Az’s distinct beliefs were deemed heretical under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Ahmadi people were forbidden from entering Mosques or reading the Koran. Since Az left Pakistan, Ahmadi people have been killed and kidnapped for their beliefs and many have left.
So Az, his wife, who was pregnant at the time, and his son flew to Thailand. Since he arrived, hundreds of Ahamdi people have followed. Az volunteered to translate for them at the JRS office and has been working with the JRS Urban Refugee Program team for more than a year. He was one of the lucky few who were not arrested in December when Thai immigration police arrested more than 100 Ahmadi people.
"Most people cannot go out for fear of arrest. It is very difficult to stay inside all day," Az said. "It’s very terrible on someone’s mental state… Even though I am here (at the JRS office) now, I worry about my family back in their room. What will I do if they get arrested. It is like a sword hanging over my head all the time."
And the seclusion is only part of the difficulty, he said. Life as a refugee is a far cry from his good job at a multi-national corporation in Pakistan. Now, he is unable to provide for his family as much as he would like, unable to give his son the things he wants.
"Ali, my oldest son, has sacrificed a lot. And even though he is only five, he is starting to understand when things are wrong. He can understand when people are talking about detention, or if he sees our facial expression or sees his mother crying. This certainly has an impact on him," Az said.
Az's family is ready to leave this behind and start their new lives in the United States.
"Ali is excited to move because I told him when we get to the U.S., he will get his own bicycle, so that’s all he cares about," he said, laughing.
While he is aware that building a life in a new country will be difficult, he is looking forward to the freedom: leaving their home without worrying about immigration police, being able to practice their religion without threat of imprisonment, and being able choose their sons’ school.
Az is looking forward to moving to his new home, but he said he will miss some things about Thailand.
"I received so much love from not only the Thai people, but people from all over the world here,” he said. “This experience has certainly improved my character and I will miss everyone I met."