Admin note: This is a republished article from a newsletter by the Atheist Alliance International. It provides information for the non-religious seeking asylum from religious prosecution. Singapore has rejected asylum seekers in the past, citing its small size and limited resources. For asylum seekers in Southeast Asia, the nearest help available is the UNHCR Regional Representative in Thailand
ATHEISM & ASYLUM
By Stuart Bechman
Membership Director, AAI
One of the more persistent issues that we experience on an ongoing basis at Atheist Alliance International is the influx of emails from atheists in Muslim countries who have been “outed” to their family and/or neighbors and who are now seeking a way to leave their country to avoid ostracization, physical harm and/or incarceration.
It’s a problem that AAI has been discussing for some time. As it turns out, most western countries readily recognize atheists as a first-tier persecuted minority, especially in “Muslim” countries. Such status usually provides a ‘fast-track’ in many host countries to granting asylum. However, without an international support group to assist them, few atheists are ever able to make their case for asylum.
There are, of course, plenty of organizations that seek to help persecuted Christians, Jews, other religious sects; but because they focus on their own communities, persecuted atheists are essentially invisible.
However, most people who leave or reject Islam are not looking for a replacement religion. Most who leave Islam do so because they have developed a secular outlook. So it’s ironic that often the only option for outed atheists to get help is to adopt another religion (sincerely or otherwise) to get any emigration support services.
About a year ago, AAI set about to find a solution to this problem.
While every country has their own rules and laws for handling refugee asylum cases (and those rules change constantly depending on the political climate and evolving world crises), the basic process for asylum support is this:
- An atheist in a religiously-restrictive country suddenly finds himself under threat for his or her atheism, to the point where they cannot see how they can continue living safely or viably in their own country. They gather any and all evidence they can of the perceived threats against them.
- It is imperative that the asylee gather and retain evidence of threat against him in order to be able to credibly present their case to asylum authorities.
- The asylee seeks out either a western embassy or an office of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) to file their asylum case.
- Because some countries do not consider candidates for asylum unless / until they have left their home country, it is best if they can travel to another country before applying.
- It’s important to note that organizations cannot provide support for a candidate asylee to cross national borders without the permission of the destination country. So asylees are necessarily on their own for this step.
- The asylee finds an organization willing to sponsor his asylum request. This organization then contacts the embassy or office where the asylee registered and files as the sponsor for the asylee.
- Realizing how difficult it is for anyone to adjust to a new country, language, and culture, most host countries require a local sponsoring group (usually a minimum of 3 people) in the area where the asylee will live that will take responsibility to assist and acclimate the asylee into the local community for some period after their arrival – usually anywhere from 6 to 24 months.
- The sponsoring organization then contacts the appropriate department or agency of the target host country and starts the process necessary to get asylum approval for the asylee to be brought to the host country.
- Once the required paperwork is completed, the host country issues its authorization and the sponsors arrange to bring the asylee to the host country and destination community.
- Once the asylee (now immigrant) has arrived, the sponsors put the immigrant in touch with the national refugee resettlement agency. This agency is usually charged with providing food, housing, cultural education and vocational training programs to help the immigrant become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. The costs of these programs are often shared with the sponsoring organization. (In the US, the cost for a 3-month immigrant acclimation program for an immigrant is about $3,000.) Sponsors are responsible for getting the immigrant to their training and support sessions with the agency as well as providing weekend and other opportunities to help the immigrant integrate into their new community.
HOW AFFILIATE ORGANISATIONS CAN HELP
We now understand this process and feel that we can provide tangible assistance to those atheists who are being persecuted in their home countries.
But we will need to reach out to our Affiliate Organizations to help us with the on-the-ground local support. AAI’s proposal is this:
- AAI gathers information on the endangered atheists who contact us for emigration assistance. We use local contacts to verify the claimed situation and learn what skills and resources the asylees have, and provide them with the above advice on the process of applying for asylum.
- For those asylees we have vetted, AAI will alert our affiliate groups about the need for asylum support and ask them to consider adopting one of our asylees for the acclimation period.
- AAI will launch a funding campaign to underwrite the travel and integration costs of sponsoring the asylee while seeking the necessary government approvals for immigration.
- Once the funding is secured, AAI and the sponsoring affiliate group will prepare for the immigrant’s arrival and, when approval is granted, provide the funds necessary to bring the immigrant to the host country.
- The sponsoring affiliate group will then fulfill their responsibilities in supporting the immigrant until they are self-sufficient in their new community.
Why would your Affiliate want to participate?
- Adopting an immigrant will help an atheist in need.
- It provides a satisfying and tangible short-term humanitarian project with a defined goal that meets the desires, wishes, and mission of the affiliate and/or its members.
- It provides a focus and opportunity for fundraising by the group that will benefit the group.
- It provides an opportunity to learn about other cultures.
- The adopted immigrant will likely bring enthusiasm, energy, and creativity to your own organization as you help them acclimate to their new home.
We currently have three candidates that are seeking asylum support, from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. If you are interested in participating in our program, please contact me to discuss further details and begin preparing the groundwork.