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Sweden: Christian Churches speak out to defend the rights of converted refugees

Ecumenical initiatives will take place in Stockholm, (where Cardinal Arborelius will also be present), Göteborg, Linköping, Sandviken on January 16 to denounce "systematic flaws in the evaluation processes of asylum applications carried out by the Swedish Migration Agency." The mobilization of communities and parishes. Three concrete proposals

Not only in Stockholm: Swedish Christians will convene also in Göteborg, Linköping, Sandviken (and probably also in Jönköping), on Wednesday, January 16 to pray and publically voice their concerns over
“systematic flaws in the evaluation process of asylum applications and converts carried out by the Swedish Migration Agency.” The issue has been worrying the Churches for a long time already, with repeated statements and declarations on this matter. “In Sweden we have a considerable number of refugees who arrived on their own from Afghanistan and from other areas like Iran and the Middle East. Many of them are 13 or 14 years of age. The Churches have put great effort in the refugees’ reception and some of them have converted from Islam to Christianity”, Karin Wiborn, Secretary of the Council of Churches, promoter of the initiatives, told SIR. “It is our opinion that they are confronted with a set of difficulties. We see that the government Migration Agency is not treating them with fairness when they file an asylum request on religious grounds.”

Excessively complex questions. Wiborn gave an example: during the interviews envisaged in the asylum-request procedures, these people are asked “difficult questions on theology, details on the different Christian Churches, Biblical knowledge, questions that not even the majority of Swedes know the answer to.” She added: “The Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in particular are involved in the migrants’ reception, and many of them have converted as a result.” No numbers available. “There are no numbers that illustrate the proportions of this problem”, said Kristine Hellner, in charge of communication for the Catholic diocese in Stockholm, “but as far as I have seen there are Christian communities that address this problem on a daily basis.” The reason why there is no reliable data is that “the asylum-seekers’ religion is not registered in their application”, Hellner said. “So we don’t know how many people file an application on the grounds of their Christian faith nor how many of them are denied asylum as a result.”

“Mahmoud committed suicide.” But many stories are known, and the initiatives planned for next week include the personal testimony of people who converted to Christianity. Hellner shared one of these stories with SIR: “Mahmoud arrived alone in Sweden in 2015. He was baptized in December 2016 in the Pentecostal church of Jönköping, after preparing for Baptism. He often attended the activities organized by the parish and followed a course on Christianity, he regularly attended religious celebrations. He was very open and was a member of the converts network organized by the parish. But the Migrations Agency decided that his faith was not sincere, that his conversion was not reason enough to grant asylum, and that his return to Afghanistan entailed no risks. Mahmoud filed three asylum applications, the fourth time they shelved it and Mahmoud took his own life.”

Public awareness. The commitment of the Christian community to date has taken place at individual level, in parishes and congregations, but these initiatives are meant to raise public awareness. In fact for the past months Equmeniakyrkan, a Protestant denomination, in its campaign “Right to faith” launched in 2013 to raise awareness on religious freedom in the world, included a focus on the situation in Sweden and together with other Protestant Churches launched a petition calling for changes in asylum applications filed for religious reasons. Three specific requests. Furthermore, the day after the planned initiatives, Thursday January 17, a delegation representing the Churches will meet the executive director of the Swedish Migration Agency Mikael Ribbenvik, to present a formal appeal with three requests from the Churches. Karin Wiborn said: first of all we ask that the legal framework of asylum applications’ evaluation “take into account the results of researches on the theme of conversion” which show that when it comes to changing religion religions and contexts often play a greater role than intellectual reflections; that greater consideration be to the “risks faced by a convert whose asylum-request is denied.” For example, a person forced to return to Afghanistan after having converted to Christianity will be exposed to great risks for his life. The third request is that “when investigating the sincerity of a conversion, authorities should focus more on actions and behaviours rather than religious and theological learning.” Participants. The Christian Council, an ecumenical organization that brings together 27 Christian denominations in Sweden, has already made known that participants in the Stockholm initiative will include, inter alia, Cardinal Anders Arborelius, the archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church Dioscoros Atas and the archbishop of the Church of Sweden Antje Jackelén. Christian Churches have been jointly committed in facing the migratory question for a long time already with several campaigns in support of a “more humane” migratory policy.

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