atheism, persecution, asylum seeker, refugees

Atheist Refugees Doubly Vulnerable

Atheist asylum seekers fleeing persecution for their lack of belief in the dominant religion of their culture are at high risk of danger.

by Scott Jacobsen

As reported by DW, “Mahmudul Haque Munshi’s name was on a hit list in Bangladesh. After five of his friends and associates were murdered, the authorities warned the blogger: ‘There’s nothing more we can do for you.’ Munshi had to leave the country in 2015.”

Often, atheist refugees or asylum seekers will have to travel through several nations simply to find a safehaven. Some have seen what is labelled, purportedly, a “Global Hit List” of nonbelievers or those who left their faith who must be killed.

Many atheist refugees fear being killed by other refugees or those who feel personal resentment for individuals who leave religion.

Especially at risk are those who publicly speak out against religion, becoming the targets of reactionary violence.

One refugee organization devoted to the plight of the non-religious is the Atheist Refugee Relief organization. It has helped 37 nonreligious refugees since November 2017 and continues to do important work for them. 

Dittmar Steiner of Atheist Refugee Relief stated, “We are actually dealing with assaults, exclusion, threats and violence.” 

31-one-year-old Worood Zuhair, a biologist from Karbala, Iraq, stated that she is under police protection and continues to receive death threats because of the lack of personal religious belief. 

“When your own father gives your soul to Azrael, the angel of death, that is enormously painful,” Zuhair told DW. “He did it so often. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Zuhair speaks about the abuse of women refugees, not simply as refugees but in virtue of their criticism of religion and their work for the rights of women within standard human rights frameworks. 

Mahmudul Haque Munshi, founder of the Shahbag movement in his home country in 2013, became a target of Islamists as his movement called for war criminals to be held accountable for their crimes during the Bangladeshi war for independence. 

With a prominent blog and network, Munshi garnered about half of a million followers. There were mass protests in the streets with subsequent death threats directed at him.

Atheists are not the majority of refugees and are not the majority of the world’s population, but atheists are a struggling minority within the global and refugee population. They suffer from fear and ignorance-based stigma held against them by the religious.

According to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), ‘Origin from a particular country or a particular reason for fleeing, such as religious affiliation or atheism, does not automatically lead to a protection status.’