Christian Refugees Denied Asylum in Sweden

In this Sept. 15, 2015, file photo, refugees from Syria arrive at Stockholm Central Station by train through Denmark and Malmo.

By Jacob Rudenstrand Published on May 31, 2019

Recently an Iranian convert to Christianity was denied asylum in the United Kingdom. He had claimed that Christianity was a much more peaceful religion than Islam. In the eyes of the British Home Office, which handles immigration, Christianity is anything but “peaceful.” In their decision, the government department quoted Bible verses to argue against him.

A parliamentary report criticized the British Home Office in 2016 for asking asylum seekers unfair questions on theology. Despite a promise to better equip their staff, not much has changed in the way the department handles asylum claims by converts to Christianity.

Genuine Believers

The British case isn’t the only example of anti-Christian bias in Europe. Many asylum seekers have found salvation in Jesus Christ as they’ve encountered the love of Christians. But migration agencies have acted as secular inquisitors, particularly in Sweden, which is perhaps the most secular country in the world. There, Christian asylum seekers regularly receive pop quizzes on theology in order to determine whether they are genuine believers.

A theology student may have to take another test if he or she fails. But if the asylum seeker fails the test, he or she will be deported to a country where he or she may be killed.

If the asylum seeker fails the test, he or she will be deported to a country where he or she may be killed.

Apart from some complex questions that not even experienced pastors have been able to answer, the Swedish Migration Agency has been known to ask questions such as: “Do you know what the Trinity is?” “What sacraments exist in Christianity?” “What other traditions apart from Protestantism exist in Christianity?” “How many disciples did Jesus have?”

The testimony of churches and pastors counts for little. Does the church report that the asylum seeker has been a faithful churchgoer? Been discipled? Been active in Sunday school or small groups? Confessed Jesus as Lord? Been baptized? It doesn’t matter. The Migration Agency often outright dismisses what the church says about the individual believer. However all asylum cases regarding LGBTQ-persons must be reviewed by a specialist. Asylum cases regarding converts don’t get the same treatment.

Report: Denying Asylum to Afghani Christians

According to the Open Doors World Watch List, Afghanistan is the second most dangerous country to be a Christian. (North Korea is the most dangerous place.) The Swedish Migration Agency knows this. In an interview in January, the agency’s chief legal officer, Fredrik Beijer, said that “no one who has left Islam can be sent back to Afghanistan. There is a big risk for that person’s life.”

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In a recent report done by the Swedish Pentecostal movement, asylum cases concerning 619 converts from Afghanistan were reviewed. Each of the 619 individuals had confessed Jesus as Lord and been baptized.

Yet 70 percent of the 619 converts from Afghanistan were denied asylum. Their faith was not seen as genuine. The decisions varied greatly based on in which part of Sweden the decision was made.

The study also showed that politics mattered. The lay judges in the Swedish Migration Court, which handles appeals, are appointed by political parties. This has a significant effect. The lay judges from the nationalist Sweden Democrats normally decide against converts. That is, in 93 percent of the cases. But lay judges appointed by the Left Party decides against the convert in only 15 percent of the cases. For some, the asylum process resembles a lottery. Not something governed by the rule of law.

A Matter of Life or Death

When the Migration Agency commented on the study, the chief legal officer dismissed the findings. “We are a secular government authority that have to test whether or not the belief is genuine. The job of the church, and the free church, is whether or not people should be part of the congregation.”

The Swedish Migration Agency seems to expect more knowledge about church life from asylum seekers than they know themselves.

When the chief legal officer, Fredrik Beijer, was asked how the agency can judge if a person is a Christian, he said: “It is almost a philosophical question. I can only say that that’s our job.”

For believers with Muslim backgrounds who are forced to return to their home country, it’s more than a philosophical question. It’s a matter of life or death.

Early next year the UN will review Sweden’s human rights record in the Universal Periodic Review. For a country that prides itself for being a humanitarian superpower, the threat against Christians — especially those with a Muslim background — remains a blindspot.

 

Jacob Rudenstrand is the deputy general secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance.

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