The harassment of Christian refugees in European asylum centres
In Europe, there is a general understanding that asylum seekers are fully protected when they reach our continent. But some reports about extreme Islamist asylum seekers harassing and acting violently against Christian peers in refugee centres in Germany, the Netherlands, France and Sweden have been made public recently; and there could be more cases in other countries.
Christians have been subject to pressure to practice Ramadan and have been threatened when they wear Christian symbols or possess bibles. Physical violence has been used in certain cases against them and many even fear for their lives. Moreover, Christian women and children are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. This phenomenon of harassment is extensible to Muslims converted to Christianity, who are also potential victims of threats and coercion: hundreds of conversions are taking place, e.g. in Denmark and Germany mainly of Iranians and Afghans. At the same time, other circumstances such as limited capacities and poor conditions in reception centres or cultural differences exacerbate tensions among diverse groups.
Importing conflicts to the EU?
Max Klingberg, of the International Society for Human Rights, has stated that “we must rid ourselves of the illusion that all those who arrive here are human rights activists. Among the new arrivals (…) religious intensity is, at least at the level of the Muslim Brotherhood.” The fear and danger in Europe is that tensions and violence among diverse religious groups existing in their countries of origin could be imported to the EU (including the longstanding Shiite/Sunni conflict). This violence affects in particular Christians and Yezidis, both considered by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, along with others, victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria by “ISIS”.
Limited visibility has been given to these situations of anti-Christian violence in refugee facilities due, among other reasons, to lack of interest and political correctness that make people afraid of being accused of xenophobia. In this regard, last 25 February, Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos answered to a parliamentary question on this issue saying that “the Commission is not aware of specific incidents of public incitement to violence or hatred or bias-motivated violence directed against Christian migrants housed in reception centres for asylum-seekers on the EU territory”. Criminal prosecution of alleged manifestations of anti-Christian sentiment is a Member States’ competence: they –and not the EU- must monitor, investigate and prosecute bias-motivated criminal offences; but when this happens, the EU shouldn’t remain silent, as it doesn’t in other cases where the EU has no competence.
What the EU and Member States should do?
To take appropriate measures to prevent assault, including sexual assault, and harassment in reception centres is an obligation by EU Member States under Article 18.4 of the Reception Conditions Directive. In this line, Jörg Radek, deputy head of Germany’s police union has suggested that “housing separated according to religion makes perfect sense,” a proposal followed by the German State of Thuringia, which became last year the first to accommodate refugees separately by country of origin. Moreover, Article 8 of the Directive on Victims' Rights foresees the right for the victims to support services. But this is not enough: the victim is entitled to “a thorough and effective investigation capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible.” Moreover, any asylum seeker harassing and threatening another peer is committing a crime; in those cases Articles 14 and 19 of the Qualification Directive -that determines who qualifies as refugee, could disqualify those convicted for such offenses from benefitting from international protection.
It would be good were Media and civil society more outspoken to report on hate crimes against Christians and other asylum seekers, who are harassed and coerced because of their religious affiliation. Furthermore, neither the EU nor its Member States should remain inactive when these crimes take place. Investigations and prosecution should be carried out with all guarantees, and law should be properly applied, including revoking international protection to criminals. Moreover, improvement of reception capacities and cultural mediation could help to reduce tensions in asylum centres.
José Luis Bazán