“We can not remain silent”
Interview with Karin Maria Fenbert, CEO of ACN , by Tobias Lehner about the initiative to end discrimination against Christian refugees in Germany
Christian relief and human rights organizations including ACN have launched a much-publicized appeal highlighting the worrying situation in German refugee camps. Christians and other religious minorities in the camps are often discriminated against and even being subjected to violent attacks.
The agencies call on politicians and the public to oppose this worrying development and to provide better protection for religious minorities. Among the supporters of the initiative also includes the Church in Need. In reports The managing director of ACN’s German office, Karin Maria Fenbert, was interviewed by Tobias Lehner regarding ACN’s involvement and support for this initiative.
Why did ACN join this initiative?
As Christians we can not remain silent when our brethren are discriminated against, harassed or persecuted. This applies worldwide, but it also applies to Germany. ACN has long supported the Christian minority in the Middle East. We know what people are going through there.
Many of them have sought safety from terror and war in Europe. But instead, they experience new exclusion, sometimes even violence. Politicians and the public have turned a blind eye for too long or played down the problem. That needs to change!
Critics of the initiative have accused you of dramatising: There is no systematic discrimination of Christian refugees. What do you think?
To be clear: Any form of discrimination is unacceptable. Our society has become very sensitive when the right to self-determination and individual freedom is curtailed. But if one speaks of religious discrimination, many cower away: whether out of ignorance or fear, whether from the supposedly “politically correct” conviction: Religion is a private matter, what do we care?
This attitude is wrong and goes against the Basic Law, Article 3, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18: “Everyone has the right to choose his religion freely, to change and exercise it .“ Whoever breaks this law is infringing human rights. Therefore, any exclusion, any encroachment on religious grounds is one too many.
Where do you get your information?
We are in contact with the Central Orientialischer Christians in Germany (ZOCD) and talk to refugee counselors. Our benefactors also volunteer in refugee work. They report events to us and report how intimidated and frightened Christian refugees are. Many refugees never dare to identify themselves as Christians, for fear of reprisals. Housing for refugees is cramped and it only takes a small spark for the situation to escalate.
What do you see as the reasons for this discrimination?
Christians and Muslims have lived in their homelands in many parallel worlds. Now, in the refugee camps, they must suddenly get along in a confined space. This is a great problem.
In addition, rigorous application of religious law is very strong in some parts of Islam. Many are afraid that the religious laws are too restricting when it comes to dealing with Christians or followers of other religions who are considered “infidels”, “unclean”. Such reservations have been significantly exacerbated by the propaganda of extremists.
What do you ask of the policy?
That they no longer try to sweep the problem under the carpet. Religious freedom is a human right that must always apply, everywhere and without restriction. Specifically, the possibility of separate accommodation of Christians and other religious minorities is a first step to take pressure off. Or at least they should be ensure that the proportion of Christians-Muslims is about the same. For this it is necessary that at the initial reception religious affiliation is recorded and transmitted. Since not enough happens.
Regarding policy, we often hear: With us there will be no separate accommodation. Asylum seekers are supposed to learn from day one to tolerate different beliefs and lifestyles. A good approach?
You can not go to the second step before the first. Integration is good and important but for it to succeed will take time. In addition, for integration there can indeed be no question of majorities in refugee camps. And integration is a learning process, in which there are also repeated setbacks.
Therefore our joint initiative calls, for example, for Christian “shop stewards” faith in refugee , to which Christians can turn to if they are discriminated against.
How ACN is committed to Christian refugees in Germany?
Our organisation emerged as an action of solidarity with the millions of displaced persons and refugees after the Second World War. Our founder, Father Werenfried Von Straaten wanted to alleviate not only the physical but also the spiritual need of the homeless. In a wealthy country like ours, humanitarian aid is the responsibility of the state.
As a pastoral charity we want to give the refugees spiritual support. That’s why we make Bibles and religious texts available for pastoral care of refugees. These have been gratefully accepted. Faith can give people who have suffered so terribly, comfort and hope. Without hope, man cannot live.