In 2018, Christian asylum seekers (2% of the camp population) in Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesvos reported that 95% of them had experienced serious persecution because of their religious beliefs. Such persecution includes gang rape, severe beatings requiring hospitalisation, mass intimidation and death threats, destruction of tents and property and being driven out of the camp by other migrants. The vast majority of those persecuted believed they would be granted religious freedom in Europe, but were deeply disappointed to discover this has not been the case. They reported being unable to practice their religion in the camp because they are given no protection from persecution. Religious intolerance in Europe’s refugee camps is being ignored or tolerated, at the expense of religious minority migrants’ freedoms.
Moria camp is no exception. Similar reports have been received on a regular basis since 2015 in other migrant facilities both across Greece and in other European states where migrants have been hosted. Religious minority asylum seekers have been forced to flee official facilities for their own safety, often seeking refuge in churches or local charities, because the governments where they are claiming asylum refuse to implement protection measures. In a continent which prides itself on upholding Human Rights, this is a failure which cannot afford to be overlooked.
The International Christian Consulate, a British charity in Greece, regularly receives referrals from churches and other NGOs, for Christian asylum seekers in desperate situations due to persecution in camps. For example, a family arrived in Greece last year having fled from government persecution in Iran, for converting to Christianity. When they arrived they were placed in a Greek government run camp, where they were one of only a handful of Christians. The other residents were all Muslim and as the majority, they exerted dominance over religious minority residents. They were allowed to establish a makeshift mosque in the middle of the camp, but the Christians had nowhere safe to worship or practice their faith. This family decided they would meet with some of the other Christians in their container, to quietly read the bible together and sing some worship songs. One night as they met, there was a loud bang on the door and outside stood a mob of Muslim camp residents with containers of petrol. The angry mob hurled abuse at the families for being Christian converts. They poured petrol over them, threatening to burn them alive and held knives to the throats of the women and small children. The Christians were forced to flee the camp late at night, grateful to still be alive. After being treated at the hospital, they slept on a church floor, before reporting the incident to Greek police. The police took no action and told them to go back to the camp, but that they couldn’t guarantee their safety. This is just one example of many.
The only protection they received was through the actions of a local church leader, who referred them to the International Christian Consulate’s safe house programme in Athens. However, the responsibility to ensure protection such as this should in the first instance, be on the shoulders of the European governments.
The reality is, such responsibility is landing on small organisations like the ICC, who have few resources and no ability to implement change at the root of the problem.
Understanding European standards and human rights are an important part of the integration of migrants, but if European officials themselves refuse to take action or uphold these fundamental rights, how can the migrants be expected to embrace them? If they are not important enough to uphold, why should the migrants be expected to accept them?
If this issue continues to be ignored by Europe’s governments there is a dangerous precedent being set for other fundamental human rights to also be ignored and this is a slippery slope which must not be allowed to develop. European governments should be setting the example of religious tolerance and the upholding of international standards of Human Rights. In Europe today, there should be no question about the ability of a person to choose their beliefs, or religion, and their freedom to practice it without fear.
Cover pic @ International Christian Consulate