Australian priest helps trapped refugees

Fr Mick Kelly SJ (

Australian Jesuit and Catholic media stalwart Fr Mick Kelly is helping refugees from Pakistan who have fled to Thailand to escape religious persecution. Source: Canberra Times

Fr Kelly SJ remembers the phone call from his friend in Pakistan as if it was yesterday.

“He asked me to help out this one guy who was fleeing Pakistan, and on his way to Bangkok. That was more than five years ago,” Fr Kelly recalls.

That friend was asking for the Sydney-born priest to give a Pakistani Christian and would-be refugee help when he arrived in Thailand's sprawling, unfamiliar capital.

”It all started by accident and has grown from there.”

Fr Kelly had moved to Bangkok in 2009 to run UCAN, the Union of Catholic Asian News agency.

Ten years later, he is still in Bangkok and at the helm of UCAN, which has about 45 journalists in countries throughout the region.

But it's his “accidental” job, helping the small community of about 400 Pakistani Christian and Muslim Ahmadi refugee families trapped in a legal limbo in Bangkok, that he wants to talk about.

The families seek food, money, education, informal legal advice and – not least – spiritual counsel. The operation runs on the smell of an oily rag, funded by donations.

The tiny cohort of Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis, most of whom fled between 2012 and 2014 when tourist visas were readily available, is just one drop in a vast ocean.

Unable to work legally, they live jammed into one room flats that cost between 3000 and 5000 Thai Baht per month ($130-$220), fretting away their days inside, afraid to go out lest they be arrested and sent to Bangkok's notorious Immigration Detention Centre.

Working with these families, Fr Kelly says, “has been a continuous experience of helplessness as I share the life of people who have no options and who are struggling to find the best way out of a very dark corner”.

“I want Australia to take some of these people and help them. They fulfil all the criteria. They are fluent in English, many are tertiary-educated and they have refugee status. But they can't get to Australia because for some reason Immigration has decided Pakistanis in Thailand are just not a priority.”


The Australian priest helping trapped refugees the world ignores (Canberra Times

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