Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund
It’s what we’ve been saying all along, but now Western governments are beginning to see that Christian refugees fleeing Middle East violence are being targeted precisely because of their faith. This means that, even when they are out of the geographical danger zone, they remain at risk because of their Christian identity.
In Germany, the deputy head of the police union, Jörg Radek, has urged authorities to provide separate housing for Christian refugees and Muslim refugees in the country, after two clashes left 14 people wounded on Sunday (27 September). In the second outbreak at the Kassel-Calden temporary migrant shelter, almost 400 refugees were involved.
“The police have reached their absolute breaking point,” said Mr Radek. “Our officials are increasingly being called to confrontations in refugee homes.” Minor arguments and conflicts can escalate rapidly under such tense and packed conditions, but religion is the unspoken undercurrent.
Similarly, in Sweden, two Syrian Christian families seeking asylum were persecuted by Syrian Muslims living in the same shelter and were forced to move out. The Muslims would not allow the Christians to use the communal areas of the house and said they had to hide their crosses.
In April, twelve Christians drowned when they were thrown overboard by Muslim aggressors on an inflatable boat crossing the Mediterranean from the Libyan coast. Other Christians on board later reported, “To protect ourselves we formed a sort of human chain, linking arms to resist being pushed overboard.”
Barnabas has been alerting governments and the Western public to this for months. Christians escaping Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Iraq and Syria seldom go to the main refugee camps in neighbouring countries because they are marginalised, abused, and at serious risk of violence in these Muslim-majority shelters.
Western countries currently in the process of receiving hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees must understand that vulnerable Christians are being overlooked in rescue programmes that take only those in the camps to safety. Fully aware of the victimisation that is likely to await them in refugee camps, Iraqi and Syrian believers are mainly taking shelter in schools, churches, and apartments, or with relatives where possible.
Barnabas is urging governments to recognise the extreme vulnerability of displaced Christians from Syria and Iraq. To rescue Christians in danger, governments must make committed efforts to look beyond the refugee camps and to find the Christians where they are.