Christian converts from Islam
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” We have written in the past about the particular difficulties faced by Christian asylum seekers in Europe who have fled persecution in Muslim countries. From harassment, bullying, and physical violence in refugee accommodations at the hands of fellow refugees, to unfair and disparate treatment by translators and security staff, many of these converts have faced problems similar to the ones they fled. Recently, we have observed a new, troubling phenomenon: government officials rejecting the asylum claims of Christian converts for a variety of ill-formed reasons, such as not understanding the nature of conversion, not understanding Christianity or religious faith generally, assuming the conversions are not genuine, and not taking seriously the consequences of deportation. For converts to Christianity from Muslim countries where conversion is illegal, access to justice in Europe is essential. The examples below illustrate some of the obstacles for Christian asylum seekers in Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Germany. In some countries there have been efforts to improve the process, but this lack of justice for Christian asylum seekers remains problematic.
A study analyzing the asylum claims from 2015-2018 of 619 Afghan converts to Christianity outlined serious shortcomings in the Swedish Migration Board’s process. 68% of the converts were denied asylum on the grounds that their conversions were not deemed to be “genuine,” despite all of them being baptized members of 76 churches in 64 locations across Sweden. The report noted that the Migration Board emphasized knowledgebased answers to questions and intellectual ability, rather than evidence of belief, religious practice, and involvement in church life. The authors of the report called the process “a complete lottery.” The study said the investigations attached great importance to the intellectual ability of the converts to reason about their beliefs and conversions. The applicants, including many who were illiterate, were expected to have the ability to bring together knowledge and personal experiences, to have good knowledge of Christianity and to give an authoritative account that is detailed and resonant, as well as revealing a “sufficiently intellectual approach.” Further, the Migration Board also appeared to downplay the converts’ fears about what would happen if their conversions were revealed. Authorities wrote that there was no reason to assume that Afghan authorities would discover the conversions or that there would be danger if the conversions were discovered. Converts from Afghanistan, the second most dangerous country for Christians according to Open Doors, can face death upon deportation because conversion from Islam to Christianity is deemed apostasy.
One example of a problematic asylum decision was the 2018 rejection of an asylum claim from an Iranian man who converted to Christianity after discovering it was a “peaceful religion in contrast to Islam.” In the rejection letter from the Home Office, passages with violent imagery from the Bible including Matthew, Revelation, and Exodus were used to argue that the claimant’s claim about Christianity was “false.” “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful religion’ as opposed to Islam, which contained violence and rage,” the letter read. The Home Office later said the letter was “not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution” and agreed to reconsider the application. There were several noteworthy deportations of Christian 12 asylum seekers, as well, including that of Asher Samson, a Pakistani Christian who attempted to persuade the UK government to allow him to stay after being threatened with execution by Islamic extremists in his home country. He was deported to Pakistan in January 2019 where he reportedly remains in hiding. Since then, the UK Home Office appears to have made some strides in correcting systemic problems relating to asylum claims by converts, including training by clergy and the issuance of a new guidance in May 2019. Germany
Pastor Gottfried Martens, who ministers to over 1,600 people in his church, most of whom are converts and asylum seekers from Iran and Afghanistan, has said that whether someone is granted asylum or not is almost like a “pure gamble.” The problem Martens sees in the administrative courts is how judges “verify” the genuineness of an asylum seeker’s conversion to Christianity. Some trust a pastor’s statement whether written or oral in court, while some ignore it and only focus on the short time they spend with the refugee in court. This fully depends on what kind of judge one gets appointed to, according to Martens, and there is no way to prepare well enough for a court date if there is no general regulation that a minister’s statement be taken into account. Martin Lessenthin, spokesman of the board of the International Society for Human Rights (IGFM), agrees that “government agencies cannot act as ‘experts’ and determine whether a former Muslim has become a ‘believable’ Christian. A church congregation and the religious community decide whether someone is a Christian and belongs to a parish. There cannot be a ‘government examination procedure for faith’.” According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) “a person seeking protection cannot be repatriated if repatriation to the country of destination constitutes a violation of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) or there is a significant and concrete danger to life, limb or liberty.” Despite this, Christian converts have been deported to countries such as Iran where “apostasy” can be punished with torture and death. In October 2019, Open Doors Germany completed a survey of 6,516 Christian converts in Germany from 179 congregations from various churches across the country. It noted that fewer and fewer converts receive asylum protection — from 67.9 per cent before July 1, 2017 down to 36.3 per cent after that date. It found that the reasons for rejection ranged from not believing the genuineness of the conversion, not taking seriously the evidence of pastors who testified on behalf of the Christians, and either not recognizing or deliberately ignoring the particular vulnerability of converts to persecution upon deportation. The former CDU/CSU parliamentary party leader Volker Kauder called for a ban on deportation to countries where Christians are persecuted. The human right to religious freedom is “the most existential human right of all, because there is no freedom anywhere in the world where there is no religious freedom.” — Volker Kauder
Hate crimes against Christians
When hate crimes are committed against individuals, an anti-Christian motive is often quite clear — either through words that were said, or the context in which the attack took place. These incidents range from threats to violence; from throwing bottles and stones at peaceful demonstrators to beatings to murders. Examples from 2018 include:
Fifteen churches received handwritten letters threatening petrol bomb attacks and mass stabbings. One handwritten letter read: “Stop all your services straight away / If you don’t your church will be petrol bombed while in service. Continue behind closed doors, your congregation members will be stabbed one by one. Blood on your hands. (You have been warned).”
A Christian Afghani asylum seeker was attacked after attending a worship service at a Pentecostal church. The victim had previously received death threats at his refugee accommodation due to his conversion to Christianity from Islam.
A 21-year-old Afghan man was arrested in Bern after he threatened to blow up the Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) near the main train station. Witnesses reported unusual behavior to the police. Upon arrival, police found the man in possession of “suspicious objects” which were later neutralized. The church was evacuated and the area around the church was sealed off for hours.
A 38-year old man was arrested after he burst into the Cathédrale Saint-Vincent de Chalon-sur-Saône during the Mass and threatened to blow everything up with a grenade and gestured toward his satchel. He also grabbed a Mass book and shouted, “it is the Koran that should be read!” Due to 27 previous convictions, including violent offenses, the court ruled that Ahmed X would be held in jail until his trial. A man caused panic in the Paris metro when he threatened the passengers with a knife, screaming “I am a Muslim and I target all Catholics!” Police arrested the 23-year-old Egyptian and took him into custody.
In the middle of the night, a group of about 30-40 fellow refugees attacked two Christian families along with another Christian man after they returned from a biblereading in a refugee camp. According to International Christian Consulate, “the attackers poured petrol over the cabin where they were meeting and threatened to set it alight. They beat up the men and held knives to the throats of the two women and children, while telling them, ‘This is a Muslim camp. You have to leave’.” Following the incident, an aid worker says there should be more protection for religious minorities among refugees as they are “extremely vulnerable.”
National police arrested two members of an extreme left group for assaulting a group of young people because they “did not like the T-shirts they wore,” namely the shirts of the Catholic University San Antonio de Murcia. The victims were first insulted, then threatened, and were finally attacked. One of the victims received stitches, suffering an ocular hemorrhage. The 19 and 28-yearold perpetrators from Spain and Brazil were identified by photographs and were already known to the police for their membership in ultra-left groups.
Prosecutors in the Hague indicated that Malek F, a Syrian asylum seeker charged with three counts of attempted murder after stabbings in the city, was specifically searching for “Christian and Jewish kuffars” (Arabic for non-believers). In a recorded conversation with his mother from prison, he said they were similar to “animals or retarded people” and that he was a “soldier of Allah.”