Authorities in Finland have noted a significant increase in failed asylum seekers converting to Christianity and appealing their deportation orders.
Immigration Service’s department for asylum seekers director Tirsa Forssell told national Finnish broadcaster Yle Novosti that cases of asylum seekers converting to Christianity has “increased significantly” – notably after the migrants are denied refugee status.
“Amongst the converts [to Christianity] there are now Afghans and Iraqis. The change of religion occurs after receiving a denial of asylum – that is, during the appeals period,” said Forssell.
According to Forssell, 70 per cent of asylum decision appeals cite ‘conversion to Christianity’. As the penalty for apostasy (leaving Islam) in many Muslim-majority countries is death, appeals are more likely to be successful as human rights laws prevent governments from returning failed asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to be tortured or executed.
Director Forsell said that there are about 600 to 700 asylum seekers who have appealed rejection decisions because of conversion this year to date.
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Forssell says that the church actively helps asylum seekers, adding that this may be one explanation for the emergence of migrants’ interest in Christianity, but concedes that conversion does offer legal protection from deportation.
The rector of the church parish of St. Michael in Turku, Youni Lehikoynen, claims many converts are interested in Christian immediately upon arrival in Finland and convert before an asylum decision is made, but admits that he met people whose religious beliefs could be doubted and that migrants’ lawyers, too, take advantage of religious conversion for their own purposes.
“They [the lawyers] are asking [me] to sign a statement [confirming conversion] for people who went to church once,” rector Lehikoynen said.
Finland, considered less desirable than Germany or Sweden to migrants, has recently suffered its first Islamist-inspired terror attack committed by a failed asylum seeker who deliberately targetted women in a stabbing frenzy in Turku, killing two and injuring six others.
The Moroccan national initially lied about his age, claiming to be 18-year-old Abderrahman Mechkah, who arrived in Finland in 2016, but police say he is 22 or 23. The terrorist is being held on murder and attempted murder charges with terrorist intent. Investigators say that he had become radicalised.