International Christian Concern | William Stark | July 10, 2020
In late March, a mosque in Lahore, Pakistan broadcast over its loudspeaker that it would be distributing government food aid in response to COVID-19.
Rachel Bibi, a Christian in Lahore, was ecstatic. She felt that her family would be rescued from their plight. She went to the mosque and waited in line, and when it was her turn, she presented her national ID card as others had done before her.
However, instead of receiving aid, Rachel was told that she could not receive any food because her ID identified her as a Christian.
“Christians often face religious hatred and discrimination,” Rachel told ICC days later. “However, we never thought [we would see this discrimination] at this critical time of COVID-19.”
According to official reports, Pakistan’s first COVID-19 case was detected in late February when a man in Karachi tested positive for the virus. The man, identified as Pakistan’s patient zero, had recently returned from Iran, a country hit hard by the pandemic.
In response, Pakistan’s government placed the country on lockdown on March 21. This action was meant to curb the spread of the virus, but it left many of the country’s poor and vulnerable in a desperate situation.
Christians Denied Aid
Most of Pakistan’s Christian community is desperately poor, living at the bottom rung of society. They earn a living through daily labor jobs. The national lockdown cut them off from the income that kept them just above starvation.
For Pakistan’s Christian community, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a new low in persecution and discrimination. In the Sandha Kalan village, more than 100 Christian families were excluded from the distribution of food aid. The aid, collected by a village management committee and mostly made up of food staples, was reportedly designed to be distributed among all the deserving families of the village. However, when the aid was distributed, the local mosque cleric did not allow a single Christian family to receive aid.
In addition to this, Pakistan’s garbage collectors and sewer workers, 80% to 90% of whom are Christians, were forced to work during the lockdown. They were provided little to no safety equipment amid the pandemic.
“We are not provided safety equipment in the hospital,” Saleem Masih, a Christian sanitation worker at a government-run hospital in Lahore, told ICC. “We are not considered human by management or treated equally to the other staffers in the hospital. We are scared of the coronavirus; however, we also need our jobs to feed our children.”
Caught between a global pandemic and daily persecution, thousands upon thousands of Pakistan’s Christians are in dire straits. In April, ICC even heard reports of starvation circulating among some Christian communities.
“Since the beginning of April, we had to cut down to one meal a day for the family,” Zeenat Bibi told ICC. “This was due to the shortage we were facing.”
A Lifeline for Pakistan
Fortunately, this is not where the story ended. ICC provided a lifeline to many Christians across Pakistan by providing direct food aid to persecuted Christians, including those who were denied aid, Christian sanitation workers, and other vulnerable sections of Pakistan’s Christian community.