I’m not sure I’ve ever known anyone quite like Michael D’Souza. We met almost a decade ago at a Redemptorist parish in downtown Bangkok, where I had just moved with my young family. Michael, even among the parish’s large Pakistani asylum-seeker community, stood out. After weekday Masses, when most attendees had departed, he would approach the tabernacle on his knees, rosary beads and prayer book lifted aloft as he mouthed desperate prayers to God. If he was trying to draw attention to his piety, it was not exactly the most opportune time.
I soon learned there was nothing affected about Michael. He was about as serious as they come, and singularly-minded. He and his wife and two children had fled Pakistan after Muslim extremists had (on multiple occasions) physically assaulted him, threatened his life, and kidnapped members of his extended family. Michael was awaiting the adjudication of his application for refugee status from the United Nations. For years the D’Souzas waited in Thailand, during which time they had a third child and did odd jobs to generate a little income.
Their application to the U.N. was rejected, as was their appeal. Having overstayed their Thai visas, the D’Souzas were twice imprisoned in the infamous Bangkok Immigration Detention Center, a filthy, corrupt facility run by the Thai authorities. By that point, my wife and I were intimately invested in the D’Souzas’ lives: I had written several articles for various Catholic publications about their (and other Pakistanis’) plight, and we regularly visited them in the IDC to deliver food and other necessities.
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Things got worse in the IDC during the D’Souzas’ second long sojourn there: the family’s health deteriorated, crammed as they were into small quarters with hundreds of other people; and a Thai guard took an alarming interest in Michael’s teenage daughter. When Michael and his wife begged us to help them return to Pakistan, we raised the necessary funds with the help of some friends and family.
And yet more terrors awaited them back in Karachi. In time, Muslim thugs recognized Michael, beat him almost to death, and destroyed the motorized rickshaw that was his sole source of employment. During (and after) Michael’s recovery, his family lived under self-imposed house arrest to avoid the attention of Muslim thugs. (The global pandemic was an unexpected godsend for them, since that forced the D’Souzas’ persecutors indoors, as well.)
The D’Souzas twice attempted to flee, once through Russia to Poland, later to Sri Lanka. Both times, they were deceived and exploited by human traffickers and forcibly returned to Pakistan. In 2022, by God’s grace, they found temporary asylum in Azerbaijan, their refugee application reopened with the U.N. However, things do not look promising. Local Azerbaijani immigration authorities have told Michael their case will soon be closed if a sponsor for repatriation is not identified, meaning yet another return to Pakistan.
For most of us in America, we regularly make significant changes to our lives with little fear of impending ruin. We change jobs, homes, schools, cities. For Michael and his family, their choices have been hamstrung by factors outside their control: extremist Muslims who aim to convert or kill them, confusing government and international agency bureaucracies whose regulations require advanced degrees to navigate.
So, this Pakistani Catholic family moves from place to place, trying one failed option and then another, barely surviving on the edge of existence. Instead of graduating from college or starting her own family, Michael’s eldest daughter works with her mother earning ten dollars a day in an Indian restaurant in Baku. So, this Pakistani Catholic family moves from place to place, trying one failed option and then another, barely surviving on the edge of existence.Tweet This
Yet, to the surprise of my often deflated, cynical perspective on the plight of the persecuted Church, there is still hope. Recently, my mother-in-law, who has been intimately invested in the D’Souzas since my family lived in Bangkok, made contact with the Office for Refugees in Toronto (ORAT). ORAT sponsors about 700-800 refugees per year with the Canadian government. They accept even those applicants who have not been designated refugees by the U.N. But the price to open an application costs $50,000.
That is the reason for my appeal to you, readers of Crisis, many of whom have already helped the Pakistani Catholics I have described in articles for the magazine, an interview on its podcast, and my 2021 book, The Persecuted, published with Sophia Institute Press. My wife and I, and her parents, are donating money for this cause. But we will need the help of many friends in order to secure this kind of money. We have created a GoFundMe page for anyone interested and willing to support the D’Souzas’ cause in Canada.
I have often felt hopeless in the face of the many obstacles (and defeats) the D’Souzas have faced this last decade. But I am hopeful we might very well have identified a veritable rescue operation for this devout Catholic family who so desperately desire to start a new life. I humbly ask you, Crisis readers, to prayerfully consider contributing to this cause. For any questions about this campaign, please reach out to my mother-in-law, Christine Caveness, at [email protected]. God bless you!