On Wednesday 31st May, the European Evangelical Alliance organised, as part of The Refugee Campaign, a hearing in the European Parliament: “D2uble Penalty: Refugees and freedom of religion or belief”. The event was co-hosted by Messrs Branislav Škripek & Lars Adaktusson, Members of the European Parliament.
50 participants attended the hearing session, included some Members of the European Parliament and their office. This was the occasion to raise awareness on the double penalty refugees from religious minorities experience when arriving in Europe: harassment and persecution in camps after fleeing violence in their home country. And also to discuss policy challenges and recommendations.
Below are some highlights from the event, and proposals of advocacy actions which both individuals and communities can undertake.

Highlights from the event

“A pan-European problem”

In addition to the reports introduced by Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, several other research papers were briefly presented. These resources could serve us well while drafting further policy recommendations.

From the various interventions it became clear that religion or belief-based intolerance and discrimination of refugees is a pan-European problem. That’s why it is important to share materials and ideas that could be applied in all EU Member States. Some great suggestions were made that will need further attention.

It is good to realise that refugees bring their own culture and that, as a result, reception centres and refugee camps are microcosms of their own. This should be taken into account by officials responsible for managing camps and accommodation centres.

Introducing refugees to their host culture should start as soon as possible. The YouTube animation film and related posters shared by Stichting Gave were interesting examples of such efforts.

Although from a manageability perspective, the focus of camp authorities will be on the majority, the religious minorities in the camp need empowerment eg by a supportive environment from local faith communities.

“There’s a lot to be done in terms of education”

The ‘Gave’ Foundation and Howard Stern from the International Christian Consulate both underlined the need to strengthen training of officials, security staff and accommodation managers on human rights and religious freedom. This also applies to lawyers supporting asylum seekers, especially lawyers dealing with applications from converts.

Training should not be limited to physical get-togethers. There are great opportunities for online training as well, which was underlined extensively in the afternoon workshop. The ‘Gave’ Foundation (NL) and The Open University (UK) shared initial ideas which could lay the foundation for a high-impact educational initiatives, some of which already exist, which we could all benefit from.

A critical need appeared for education programmes for refugees and host communities on cultural awareness and European values of non-discrimination, religious tolerance and democracy.

Church communities have shown that they can be ressources of moral support for asylum seekers. Training in asylum issues and procedures as well as on reporting potential problems in camps to the right authority would bolster both individual support and reporting on behalf of asylum seekers.

Other suggestions and highlights:

  • Create a list of MPs/MEPs with refugee accommodation facilities in their constituency

  • Revise UNHCR vulnerability criteria to reflect the situation of individuals under pressure for their religion or belief

  • Tackle the issue of translators’ and interpreters’ integrity regarding religion, ethnicity and language

  • Work with accommodation authorities to better identify and protect converts amongst refugees

  • Document and counter the rise of violence during Ramadan, and more generally prevent the implementation of shari’a law within refugee camps

  • Work together on reforming the asylum claim system with guidelines, best practices and common materials: for example guidelines for conversion assessment in asylum claims, provision of training materials (more information will follow)

  • The necessity to link organisations on the ground with advocacy organisations and academia

  • Conduct a thorough European-wide research on cases of harassment/persecution of religious minorities in camps

  • Invest in interfaith dialogue

  • Explore opportunities to get the Fundamental Rights Agency involved in addressing violations of freedom of conscience and religion of refugees.

A fuller report from the event will follow in the coming weeks, highlighting policy recommendations and their implementation. If you would like to share some more resources, notes or ideas, please send them to the organisers:

The EEA also wishes to act as a catalyst for seeking and implementing practical and policy responses to the multiple challenges to freedom of religion or belief for the refugees. We will therefore also seek to connect participants and interested parties to that effect.

Things you can do

PARTICIPATE in our Thunderclap campaign on EU migration policy: http://thndr.me/iV1uJD

(IMPORTANT: in your custom message, replace #EUCouncil #eucopresident by @EUCouncil @eucopresident for Twitter and by @eucouncil @europeancouncilpresident for Facebook to mention the EU Council and its president)

More information on advocacy actions you can do with your organisation or church HERE: www.eearefugees.org/eu-ministers-stop-the-eucompacts

DOWNLOAD the Refugee Sunday Church Pack and organise a special service in your church on June 18th or 25th: www.eearefugees.org/world-refugee-sunday

To know more about The Refugee Campaign, visit our website that contains lots of resources: www.eearefugees.org

Documents and links from the event

Download CSW’s report on Refugees and Religious Freedom

Download Open Doors International’s report on Christian Refugees in Germany

Relating to converts in the context of their asylum claim − guidance by the ‘Gave’ Foundation

The ‘Gave’ Foundation worked with the Dutch Refugee Agency to develop an animation video for asylum seekers which, among others, informs them about freedom or religion or belief in the Netherlands. You can find the video on YouTube, here.

Also attached: