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Day 99, Year of #Mygration: D2uble Penalty: Refugees and freedom of religion or belief

Written by Jessica Giles, Law Lecturer, Director of the Project on Interdisciplinary Law and Religion Studies at The Open University

Having fled persecution in their home state refugees can arrive in Europe only to find that further mis-treatment or difficulty awaits, in particular for those who seek to convert from Islam to Christianity. Particular difficulty can arise as a result of fixed understandings by asylum authorities as to what constitutes a ‘genuine’ conversion.

In May 2017 representatives from the European Parliament, NGOs and church-based organisations met to discuss the double penalty that refugees arriving in Europe can suffer.

This came after a report by OpenDoors, Germany, on the lack of protection for religious minorities in Germany. It highlighted that there had been religiously motivated attacks on 743 Christians in German refugee shelters. Unofficial reports claim Germany has taken in over 1 million refugees (according to the UNHCR report there are 65 million

According to a BBC report the majority of those applying for asylum in 2015 came from Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq. Germany received the highest number of new asylum applications in 2015 (more than 476,000) with Hungary second.

According to the more recent UNHCR report 55% of refugees come from Syria (5.5 million), Afghanistan (2.5 million) and South Sudan (1.4 million). The top host countries taking in refugees are Ethiopia, 791,600; Uganda 940,800, Islamic Republic of Iran 979,400; Lebanon 1 million; Pakistan 1.4 million and Turkey 2.9 million.

Even more alarming are the UNHCR 2016 statistics on education of refugee children. According to their report while 91% of children around the world attend primary school only 50% of refugee children are able to. This gap grows wider for secondary education with 84% of the global adolescent population attending secondary school compared to 22% of the refugee adolescent population. This compounds the difficulties of refugee status and decreases the chances of settling either in a host state or upon return to a home state.

With distance learning and open educational resources available there is a mechanism for reaching those within the refugee population who so badly need resources. With technology it is possible to enable children to learn wherever they are and even in mobile or transitory situations. This type of learning is facilitated by the Open University International Development Office.

With sufficient funding it would be possible to reduce this educational gap and soften the terrible blow that comes from persecution and displacement.

Jessica Giles, Law Lecturer, Director of the Project on Interdisciplinary Law and Religion Studies at The Open University.