Lao Christians still homeless almost a year after their eviction
The 21 Christian villagers in Laos who were evicted from their homes almost a year ago are still homeless because the new homes promised for them have not materialized.
The Christian villagers, who belong to five families, were expelled by authorities from the villages of Pasing-Kang and Pateum in the southern province of Salavan late last year and early this year for refusing to give up. their faith, according to local sources.
Many Buddhists in Laos regard Christianity as a foreign religion that does not belong to the country.
Christian villagers, some of whom have sought refuge in a forest for some time, have been promised new homes, but these have yet to be built. As a result, all of these Christians remain homeless and destitute.
“My family and I still live in small huts in our paddy field near the forest. We are still homeless, ”said one of the 14 Christian villagers who were evicted from Pateum in January at Radio Free Asia’s Lao service.
“According to the agreement allowing us to return, the village authorities are supposed to build us a new house, but they did nothing of what they were supposed to do. Village authorities now say they must wait for district authorities to act.
Other Christians, including pastors, have been arrested and detained for extended periods for organizing religious services such as funerals
The expulsion of villagers from the predominantly Buddhist communist nation where Christians represent a small minority of believers is symptomatic of the usual discrimination and harassment Christians face in Laos, where their faith has long been presented as a foreign belief of the western colonizers.
In recent years, many Christians have been evicted from their homes in rural Laos by neighbors or local officials after refusing to renounce their faith.
Other Christians, including pastors, have been arrested and detained for prolonged periods for organizing religious services such as funerals.
Although by law Christians are free to practice their religion within certain limits, many officials across the countryside and impoverished countryside ignore this.
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According to a member of the Evangelical Church to which the 21 dispossessed Christians belong, the authorities refused to cooperate in rebuilding their homes.
Rather than fixing the problem themselves, “they told us to go talk to the district authorities instead,” a church member told Radio Free Asia.
“So we went to talk to the district, but they told us to go back and talk to the village chief. We also went to the provincial headquarters and they said to go back to the district and the villages. It gets nowhere, ”the Christian said.
“Authorities at all levels are simply ignoring this problem and have no intention of helping these Christians. So they just have to wait for their new homes to be built.
Life is particularly difficult for converts to the Christian faith, who risk persecution by their families and local authorities.
It has been suggested that by dragging their feet, authorities wait for dispossessed Christians to give up their faith in exchange for new homes.
“Those who renounce their faith will be left alone, but those who refuse will have to leave their villages and their homes will be destroyed,” said one Christian.
Christians in Laos, who number between 150,000 and 200,000 in a country of 7.2 million inhabitants, are among the most persecuted religious minorities in Southeast Asia, according to foreign Christian groups.
“Christian activities are heavily monitored by Communist authorities, including those of registered churches. Especially in rural areas, house churches are forced to meet clandestinely because they are considered illegal gatherings, ”says Open Doors, a non-denominational Christian rights group.
“Life is particularly difficult for converts to the Christian faith, who risk persecution by their families and local authorities. This can involve property damage, confiscation of property and fines. Women can also face the danger of rape and sexual harassment, ”says Open Doors.
“Opposition is heightened when a convert’s family or local authorities raise the local community against them, sometimes through village meetings or by seeking support from local religious leaders.