Christians Barred From Seeking Asylum After Leaving Refugee Camp Amid Harassment by Muslim Migrants

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By Samuel Smith , CP Reporter
(Photo: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)A Syrian refugee embraces his son after their overcrowded raft landed at a rocky beach in the Greek island of Lesbos, November 19, 2015. Balkan countries have begun filtering the flow of migrants to Europe, granting passage to those fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan but turning back others from Africa and Asia, the United Nations and Reuters witnesses said on Thursday.

A Christian charity is pressuring the Greek government to change a policy that is preventing homeless Christian refugees who fled persecution, bullying and threats inside the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos from being able to apply for asylum and gain help via the United Nations.

The London-based British Pakistani Christian Association recently wrote to the U.N. and Greek authorities on behalf of Pakistani Christian refugees who fled from Lesbos Island’s famous Moria asylum camp due to the level of persecution they experienced at the hands of Muslims inside the camp.

BPCA President Wilson Chowdhry told The Christian Post Monday that he has been told Greek authorities have put in place a “geographical restriction” that is effectively blocking asylum seekers who escaped persecution at one of the refugee camps on the Greek islands from being able to apply for asylum with the Greek authorities on the mainland without having to return to the very camp they were persecuted in.

Chowdhry explained that the only exception to that rule is if an asylum seeker has a severe health condition that qualifies as a mitigating factor to allow his or her asylum application to be assessed on the Greek mainland. Chowdhry said the policy is designed to make it easier to track asylum-seeking refugees.

He called on Greece’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Dimitris Caramitsos for help in seeking a change to the policy.

“I would like to bring to your attention several reports of persecution that have been raised with the British Pakistani Christian Association, relating to persecution of Christians within the Muslim-majority … Moria Camp,” Chowdhry wrote in an email to Caramitsos last Friday. “Christians are being prevented from holding church services, worshiping and praying by their Muslim neighbors. Moreover, reports of tents being burned down, violence, bullying, harassment and severe threats paint a very bleak picture of the quality of life for Christians caught up within the camp.”

“The majority of Christian refugees escape but are being refused asylum by Greek authorities who only consider adverse health as a mitigating factor and not Christian persecution,” Chowdhry’s email continued. “We are seeking your help in obtaining a change in the current Greek policy in which the risk of proven re-persecution of Christians counts as a mitigating factor for asylum assessment for escapees of Moria Camp.”

Caramitsos has not yet respond to Chowdhry’s email.

Chowdhry explained that the failure to assess asylum seekers leaves them in a place of limbo with no status. This prevents them receiving statutory assistance from the Greek Authorities and help from UNHCR.

One of the Pakistani Christian asylum seekers suffering from the policy is Haroon Maqbool, who is father of two from Rawal Pindi, Pakistan.

Maqbool fled Pakistan, which ranks as the fourth-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution according to Open Doors USA, in 2015 after being imprisoned and tortured.

In August 2016, Maqbool arrived in Lesbos on a boat with other asylum seekers and the group was taken to Moria camp to register for asylum.

According to the BPCA: “Muslim’s pushed the Christians to the back of the queue and told them not to enter the camp or they would be killed.”

BPCA reports that Maqbool and the other Christian men in the group “realized they would not survive long in the camp.” Even though they submitted their fingerprints at the camp, the group did not complete their asylum applications before they escaped the camp and the island.

“Haroon became bullied straight away and all the Christians left the camp … and escaped by ship rather than be harrassed and bullied everyday,” Chowdhry told CP in a phone call.

Even though it’s been nine months since Maqbool fled the camp, the policy has prevented him from completing an asylum application on the Greek mainland, where he now lives as an illegal immigrant at risk of being arrested for overstaying his visa.

“In Haroon’s case, you have a clear case of how the system is not working,” Chowdhry asserted.

BPCA is helping aid as many as seven Pakistani Christian asylum seekers who were found homeless on the Greek mainland by another charity and are accepting online donations that will provide much-needed aid to homeless Christian refugees in Greece like Maqbool.

“The victims had no recognised status as they had fled Moria Camp due to persecution and bullying. The camps are severely under-policed and Christians were being told they were not allowed to hold worship services or pray to God,” Chowdhry told CP. “Moreover through threats, intimidation and bullying attempts were being made to forcibly convert these Christians who had fled their homelands to be free of such oppression.”

“To date many still have not been registered for asylum as they refuse to return back to Moria camp on Lesbos island, where they first entered Greece,” he added.

Chowdhry asserted that it’s not just Moria camp where Christians are being persecuted, adding that many Christians flee from refugee camps on the Greek mainland also. He noticed during a visit to a refugee camp on the Greek mainland earlier this year that there was very little policing inside the camp.

In addition to the persecution, refugees face dire and inadequate conditions inside the camps that force them to live in squalor.

“Many just choose to be homeless rather than return back and stay at those camps,” Chowdhry said. “Those camps are extremely terrifying.”

Chowdhry has been informed that UNHCR is compiling a list of cases like Maqbool’s where asylum seekers are too frightened to return to island refugee camps to complete their asylum applications.

“We hope that that report will help redefine accepted mitigating factors for registration for escapees from asylum camps on the basis of religious persecution,” Chowdhry said. “In the meanwhile, we have written to the Greek Ambassador to the U.K. and have asked him to intervene on behalf of Haroon Maqbool and other Pakistani Christians.”