Telling the Human Story, 15 June 2011
© UNHCR/K. McKinsey
Pakistani refugee Muhammmed Zakaria handing over his family’s passports to UNHCR’s Severine Weber to process them for resettlement. They left China for Canada in May.
YANJIAO, China, June 15 (UNHCR) – Not many people can remember precisely what they were doing at 9:45 on Tuesday, March 1. Muhammmed Zakaria can: it was the first time in his life he was truly happy, the moment he got a phone call that transformed his life.
At the other end of the line was Severine Weber, UNHCR associate field officer in Beijing, telling the Pakistani refugee that seven long years of loneliness and despair were over and that he and four of his closest relatives were about to restart their lives in Canada.
As if in a dream, the 32-year-old bachelor walked back to the flat he shares with his parents and two younger sisters here, 45 km east of the Chinese capital, Beijing. When his mother opened the door, Zakaria burst into sobs and she feared that – for the fifth time – his resettlement application had been turned down.
Instead it was “happiness I had never had before, the biggest happiness in my life,” Zakaria said before he and his family left last month for Toronto, Canada, where two married sisters live. “It’s kind of a miracle.”
Persecuted from childhood as a member of Pakistan’s Ahmadi religious minority, Zakaria credited “first of all, God,” and said his chance for a fresh start showed that “UNHCR’s efforts and (our) prayers all came together.”
In early 2004, Zakaria’s family sent just him – the only son in a family with four daughters – to China after receiving death threats. He applied for asylum at UNHCR’s Beijing office and received refugee status two months later.
Although China has acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees are unable to settle permanently here, so the usual solution is for them to be resettled in third countries, a process that can take years.