In this edition of our asylum stories, we bring you the journey of Aynoor*, a young Pakistani woman who feared returning to Pakistan due to her atheist beliefs.

by Eden Gebremeskel

International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

In May 2019, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted 22 August as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. Since then, this date has served as an important reminder of the vast number of people  worldwide who continue to face various forms of violence as a result of their religion or belief. 

This year, Asylos shares the story of Aynoor which highlights the intersection of asylum law and religion or belief. Aynoor was represented by Martin Dannaud, a French immigration lawyer based in Paris, who represents clients seeking asylum in France. 

Aynoor's Story

Aynoor arrived together with her family in France, from Pakistan. When her residence permit expired and it was time to return to Pakistan, Aynoor resisted her father’s attempts to take her back. Her father did not let her apply for another residence permit to stay in France as he did not want her to work or study; instead he had planned for her to get married in Pakistan. After much consideration, Aynoor then decided to secretly apply for asylum, a difficult feat as she was forced to stay at home by her family. In her efforts to stay in France, Aynoor got in contact with an international NGO based in Paris working with forcibly displaced persons. It was through this organisation that Mr. Dannaud first heard about Aynoor’s case.

Aynoor had told staff of the international NGO that she feared returning to Pakistan on account of the forced marriage that she would have to enter upon her return as well as her atheist beliefs.

By the time Mr. Dannaud spoke with Aynoor, she had already been seen by the French Office for Refugees, OFPRA (‘Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides’), the institution responsible for the administration and recognition of refugee status, statelessness and admission to subsidiary protection. OFPRA had rejected her case after Aynoor had presented her two reasons why she feared returning to Pakistan: forced marriage and religious persecution. However, Mr. Dannaud knew that Aynoor’s chances of being granted asylum in France would be more successful if she were to mainly focus on her reasons to fear persecution because of her atheist beliefs. 

Asylos' Research Report

After speaking to Aynoor about her atheism, Mr. Dannaud found that she had initially decided to apply for asylum after conversations with an organisation for ex-muslims in Britain and the council for ex-muslims in France.

Furthermore, Aynoor had felt able to openly criticise the treatment of women in Pakistan and feared the retribution she might face if she returned.

Although OFPRA had initially rejected Aynoor’s claim, based on their conversations and the information shared by Aynoor, Mr. Dannaud felt that her fear of persecution for her atheism was consistent and well founded. It was here that Mr. Dannaud requested a report on atheism in Pakistan from Asylos.

Aynoor’s story, together with the research report produced by Asylos’ volunteer researchers, convinced Mr. Dannaud that Aynoor’s fear of returning to Pakistan as a result of her atheism was strong enough to warrant a reapplication to the National Court of Asylum in France. The Asylos research report, along with additional information regarding Aynoor’s atheism, was presented to the Court. This time, Aynoor’s case was approved. 

From Facing Religious Persecution in Pakistan to Finding Asylum in France

Mr. Dannaud explained that for Aynoor’s asylum claim to be successful in the French asylum system, her fear of religious persecution needed to be specific, consistent, and convincing. Our research report validated her fears and story of what she risked with her family in claiming asylum.

Now that Aynoor has been granted asylum in France, she can live her life without fear of persecution for her beliefs. She is one of many. Today, on the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, we must remember every single person seeking a life free from persecution for their beliefs. People with stories just like Aynoor. 

Asylos works every day to ensure that lawyers and their clients have access to crucial information to substantiate their claim to international protection. To read Asylos’ research reports, please register for our database by clicking here

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