Is conversion sincere, or just a way to secure asylum status?
The Associated Press visited an Evangelical church in Berlin, Germany’s capital, to find a congregation that includes “hundreds of mostly Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers.”
Most say their intentions are sincere, AP said, but others are raising doubts.
“There’s no overlooking the fact that the decision will also greatly boost their chances of winning asylum by allowing them to claim they would face persecution if sent home” the wire service noted.
AP pointed out that Germany treats refugees differently, depending on their situation back home. Those fleeing the Syrian civil war have a better chance of receiving asylum. “The situation is more complicated for asylum seekers from Iran or Afghanistan, which are seen as more stable,” AP said. Those are the countries from which most of the new parishioners hail. “In recent years, roughly 40-50 percent from those two countries have been allowed to stay in the country, with many of those getting only temporary permission to remain.
So it may boost the chance of an Afghan or an Iranian if he can convince authorities that he will face persecution in his homeland. Conversion to Christianity from Islam can be punishable by death or imprisonment in Iran and Afghanistan.
For Gottfried Martens, the pastor of Trinity Church, however, motivation is unimportant.
Many, he said, are so taken by the Christian message that it changes their lives. And he estimates that only about 10 percent of converts do not return to church after christening….
“I know there are — again and again — people coming here because they have some kind of hope regarding their asylum,” Martens said. “I am inviting them to join us because I know that whoever comes here will not be left unchanged.”
Yet, Martens’ church has gotten a reputation in distant parts: the pastor baptizes Muslims after a three-month crash course—and helps with asylum applications. His congregation has grown from 150 just two years to more than 600 parishioners now—with a seemingly unending flow of new refugees. He says he has at least another 80 people—mostly from Iran and a few Afghans—waiting to be baptized.
One young Iranian woman said she was convinced most people had joined the church only to improve their chances for asylum. And Vesam Heydari criticized many of the other Iranian church members, saying they were making it much harder for “real, persecuted Christians” like himself to get approved for asylum. He came to Germany after failing to win refugee status in Norway. He converted there in 2009.
“The majority of Iranians here are not converting out of belief,” Heydari said. “They only want to stay in Germany.”
Other Christian communities across Germany, among them Lutheran churches in Hannover and the Rhineland, have also reported growing numbers of Iranians converting to Christianity, AP said.
Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees said it does not comment on the reasons individual applicants give when they apply for asylum, or on how many people receive refugee status in Germany based on religious persecution.
Whatever their religion, migrants and refugees should be welcomed as brothers and sisters, not seen as a burden, said Father Matthew Gardzinski, in charge of the migrants section for the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.
From a Catholic perspective, migrants should above all be recognized as persons created “in the image and likeness of God, which is the basis of human dignity,” Father Gardzinski told Catholic News Agency.
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