A church in Germany. (Photo: Paul Frankenstein via Flickr; CC 2.0).
A church in Germany. (Photo: Paul Frankenstein via Flickr; CC 2.0).

Refugees at risk of deportation from Germany are finding shelter in Germany’s churches, and many are becoming Christians in the process, reports The Washington Post.

More than a million refugees travelled to Germany in 2015, in the midst of Europe’s so-called “migrant crisis”, because it was known for its open borders’ policy. Churches and church-affiliated organisations in the country played a critical role in the response and in providing help.

Two years on, some churches have started to become more actively engaged with defending refugees, for example in offering accommodation to asylum seekers facing deportation.

Police do not enter church premises out of respect and while the refugees stay in the church, it gives them time to appeal the decision. At the moment, there are reportedly 351 of these ‘church asylum’ locations in Germany.

With many of those helped converting to Christianity, one Lutheran Church in Berlin has seen its congregation swell from just a few hundred to more than 1,300 – mostly Iranians and Afghans.

But these conversions have become a point of contention between the authorities and the Church, as well as with Muslim organisations in the country, as most of the refugees come from countries where Islam is the dominant religion.

The Washington Post writes that “conversion is both a side effect of church relief and a potential advantage for rejected asylum seekers, who can claim deeper need for asylum if they are at risk of religious persecution in their home country”. The challenge for both the authorities and church leaders is to determine the ‘real converts’ over those only pretending to help their case.

Last month, World Watch Monitor reported how an Iranian convert to Christianity was refused asylum in Sweden. The country’s Migration Board did not believe that her life would be in danger if she was sent back to Iran, where converts from Islam – as she is – can face jail. They told her “it’s your personal life and it’s not our problem if you decided to become a Christian; it’s your problem”.