Muslims migrating from Syria have admitted to converting to Christianity in a bid to boost their chances of being given asylum in the West, despite the risks associated with apostasy.
Two Muslim Syrians living in Lebanon have told The Telegraph that they and their families have converted to Christianity because they believe it gives them a better chance of gaining asylum in the West, and because they can better access aid from Christian charities.
Ibrahim Ali, who became homeless after moving to Beirut, told the paper: “A lot of people are doing it to get to Europe, the US and Canada. While I plan to stay in Lebanon, I know hundreds who been baptised just to help their applications. They would do anything to have security for their family.”
Similarly, Alia al-Haji (a pseudonym used for fear of reprisals over apostasy), who plans to apply for asylum in Canada with her husband and three children, told the paper, “The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) tells us it doesn’t help your application to be Christian, but that’s not our experience.” The family are currently attending a church in the nearby Christian neighbourhood of Achrafiyeh.
However, it appears that the Muslim converts may be being misled on their chances of successfully applying for asylum as Christians.
According to figures from the U.S. State Department Refugee Processing Center, of the 11,491 Syrian asylum seekers accepted into the country during the 2016 fiscal year, the vast majority – 11,300, or 98.33 per cent – were Sunni Muslims.
Just 54 of the 11,491 – 0.46 per cent – were Christians. They comprised 14 Catholics, six Orthodox, four Protestants, one Greek Orthodox, and a further 29 asylum seekers identifying themselves simply as “Christian” rather than by denomination.
The picture was similar in the UK: according to figures obtained from the Home Office through a freedom of information request lodged by Christian Today, 97.5 per cent of the Syrian asylum seekers brought to the UK under the government’s resettlement scheme in 2015-16 were Muslims, whereas Christians account for fewer than two per cent.
Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer, has accused the United Nations of being behind the disparity by holding a de facto “religious-discrimination policy, for political ends”.
Nonetheless, Pastor Said Deeb of the Church of God, where Mr. Ali was baptised, said that he was receiving dozens of asylum seekers each week.
“I have people begging me to help them become Christian,” he said. “They think it will help them claim asylum abroad. They say ‘just baptise me, I will believe in whoever just to leave here’.”