HELSINKI, Aug. 28– Asylum seekers of Islamic background have
increasingly switched to Christianity in Finland, officials have said.
Kari Kiesilainen, a head of section at the Ministry of Justice, told
national broadcaster Yle this week that the number of converts has come as
a surprise. He did not give exact figures, but said the situation caused
delays in application assessment as often an oral hearing may have to be
arranged in the administrative courts.This year Finnish authorities have
rejected more applications than they accepted. Some 2,692 applications led
to a status for “international protection”, whereas 2,847 were rejected.
The rejected applicants can either leave the country or file a complaint to
the administrative courts otherwise they are subject to forced deportation.
Yle reported that a change of religion has been mostly claimed when the
first application is dismissed and the applicant files a complaint.
Some political leaders have suggested this week that the processing time
should be shortened in order to accelerate the departure of those
dismissed. But Kiesilainen said the situation related to religious
conversion makes it impossible to speed up the process of complaints.
Especially in recent weeks, the authority have to take into consideration
the change of religion when doing the assessments, as a convert could face
serious risks if sent back to his or her country of departure. Now, the
question is, what are the real motives of the converts? Do they really want
to get rid of their old religion or just want to increase the chances of
While the civil servants are to shoulder the responsibility to figure out
the reality, specialists from the national Evangelic Lutheran Church
believe the new converts often take a personal risk in their decision and
have usually considered their options carefully. Marja Laihia, a
specialist for immigrant services at the Central Administration of the
Finnish Evangelic Lutheran Church, reminded that refugees arrive in an
environment of religious freedom, which is new to them. Talking to Xinhua,
she said arrivals have mostly lived in countries were Islam is enforced,
either by the state or at least by the extended families. “Now they are in
a country where they can choose on their own,” she said.
A wave of refugees joining the church runs counter to the general trend in
Finland. The Lutheran church has been losing members of late. In the early
1980s well over 90 percent of Finns were in the church, but now the figure
is close to 70 percent. Virpi Koivisto, a chaplain at the Hyvinkaa parish,
north of Helsinki, told Xinhua she has got the impression that asylum
seekers want to get rid of the religion of their old country. “But they do
not take the decision on light grounds as they run the risk of a conflict
with the local expatriate communities and fellow asylum seekers,” she
said. Political leaders in Finland usually never discuss the choice of
religion by an individual. It is considered to be in the private sphere of
a person. But last April Matti Vanhanen, former prime minister and the
presidential candidate of the Center Party, took up the matter. He
underlined that the respect for the country’s laws must be given precedence
over religious norms. Vanhanen underlined secularization is an efficient
tool against religious radicalization. Chaplain Koivisto of Hyvinkaa, told
Xinhua, however, that such theological depth is rarely discussed with her
parish members. Encounters with the newcomers are often filled with their
everyday anxieties and needs, she said. – XINHUA
*ISLAM: *SANAA, May 27, 2017 (Xinhua) — Muslims read the Quran inside the
al-Kabir Mosque in Sanaa, capital of Yemen, on May 27, 2017.