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Refugees from Iran converting to Christianity in Germany

Posted by moodhacker on December 25, 2016 at 1:20 PM

The Protestant priest baptizing the new Christians does not want to reveal his name or the location of his parish because he fears that he will be threatened for helping refugees.

Suddenly, a tense hush falls over the crowd. The parish priest has bad news.

"We have the first round of deportations to Iran, here from our group," he says in the silent room. Then he gives advice. "Tell the judge about your faith and distribute Christian scriptures at the Christmas market. Otherwise the judge will say that you can pray in private in Iran."

First Muslim, then Christian

Is there a formula? Flee, be baptized and obtain asylum? When the European borders opened in the fall of 2015, not only war refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq came to Germany through the Balkan route. Amid those seeking protection were many Iranians who were fleeing from the mullah regime.

Deutschland Berlin Taufe Flüchtlinge aus Iran (Imago/epd)

Minister Gottfried Martens in Berlin-Steglitz baptizes Iranian refugees. Over 400 have converted and now belong to the Protestant parish.

According to the Federal Agency of Migration and Refugees (BAMF), 25,000 people from the Islamic Republic of Iran applied for asylum in Germany between January and November 2016. In the same period in 2015, only 4,454 had applied.

One of the asylum applicants is 31-year-old Elia. The physical education teacher from Tehran traveled to Germany with the help of a smuggler and also trudged across the Balkan Route to Germany. Once in Germany, he converted to Christianity and was baptized in a Protestant parish in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

In August, after waiting for eight months, he attended his first hearing at BAMF. "I was glad to finally be able to speak freely again," he says. "I told the investigator that somebody from school staff reported me to the secret police and claimed that I was going to home Church services."

Fear of spies

The BAMF official did not seem to be impressed by the story told by the physical education teacher. The state representative suggested Elia move to another city in Iran, which was met with a shake of the head. "The secret police in Iran are worse than the KGB in the former Soviet Union. They can find you anywhere," says Elia. He even avoids contact with other Iranians because he is scared of meeting spies.

Elias said he is "over" Islam and his country. "The government always preaches that Islam is the best religion in the world. But Islam does not give sinners a chance to make amends - and that also includes leaving Islam. It is punishable by death," he says. In Christianity, however, it is possible to forgive.

Deutschland BAMF-Außenstelle in Bingen am Rhein (picture-alliance/dpa/F. von Erichsen)

Asylum seekers are questioned about the nature of their religious beliefs in their home country. If they are found to be the cause of persecution, they may quailfy for asylum

So what comes after baptism? Churches in Germany are rejoicing at the rising number of conversions. BAMF and immigration authorities, however, are skeptical of the trend.

by the Deutsche Welle article "Is conversion a reason for asylum?"

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