The charity Open Doors has warned that violence against Christians in refugee homes in Germany is being played down or ignored. It says Germany cannot allow attacks on freedom of religion.
Ramin F. comes from Iran, where he converted to Christianity. Now, he lives in a home in eastern Brandenburg together with 120 other refugees, eight of whom are Christians like him. And he says even in Germany, he feels persecuted.
"When the people here found out I am a Christian, they started creating problems for me," said Ramin. He says Muslims refused to come to German lessons because they didn't want to sit at the same table with an "impure" person. Some of his food and personal belongings were also stolen. He says some of the refugees tried to start fights or make noise to keep him from sleeping.
Is Ramin F.'s experience unique, or are Christians being systematically oppressed in German refugee homes? At a conference in Berlin, there were opposing views. The two largest churches in Germany maintain that there are isolated incidents of attacks against Christians. But other Christian organizations say there are literally thousands of cases, and it's time for the government to take action.
"We have to tell the truth," said Markus Rode, head of the Berlin-based organization Open Doors, a Christian group closely affiliated with the conservative German Protestant Alliance. Together with other Christian organizations, Rode accused both the government and the two main churches of playing down, or ignoring, attacks on Christians in refugee shelters. Cooperating with the Catholic charity Kirche in Not, the Action on Behalf of Persecuted Christians and the Needy (AVC), and the Central Council for Oriental Christians in Germany, Open Doors has now presented its own survey on violence against Christians in refugee homes. "We're also doing this on behalf of many volunteers who feel intimidated, as well as at the request of the police, who aren't allowed to say that this is happening," stressed Rode.
Problems with security staff
The group used its own limited networks and talked to volunteers to identify the number of Christians affected by violence in refugee homes nationwide. They got replies from 231 refugees, mainly converts from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They complained of physical and mental abuse, insults, and even death threats.
Every second respondent reported that members of security staff had been involved in the incidents. "The paradigm of the isolated incident must stop," said Berlin-based pastor Gottfried Martens. He said he's heard of hundreds of cases in his region of Berlin and Brandenburg alone. Martens says that the many security staff are hired to work in refugee homes based solely on their "language skills and the size of their biceps." He says that while it's important for the staff to be able to communicate with the refugees, there are now dozens of examples where Muslim security staff have sided with the attackers. He added that he knows of one case where an Afghan refugee shelter leader tore up Bibles and denied Christians a bed.
Markus Rode of Open Doors says the 231 registered cases are just the tip of the iceberg. To de-escalate the situation, his group has suggested systematically increasing the number of Christians in any single refugee home. Pastor Martens has even advocated for separate accommodation for Muslim and non-Muslim refugees.
Government representatives have been slow to react. "We are taking the results of the Open Doors survey seriously," said Franz Josef Jung, commissioner for churches and religious communities for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. "Refugees in Germany should not have to feel that they're being subjected to the same kind of repression they suffered in their home countries," said Jung. He added that changes in the way security staff are selected to work in refugee shelters are already being made.