In Germany, police don’t enter churches. So some religious institutions are sheltering refugees, mostly Christian converts, in order to save them from being deported.
Some religious institutions on German soil are saving asylum seekers from deportation, offering them shelter for six months and then assististing them in their court cases. Pastor Gottfried Marten’s Trinity Church in Berlin is one of them.
Hundreds of refugees, mostly Afghans and Iranians, who converted to Christianity before leaving their countries and taking refuge in the Lutheran church, are now staying at the Trinity Church.
To improve communication, Pastor Marten has learned the Persian language while also providing sanctuary to thousands in the past 15 years. He holds mass baptismal ceremonies after having tested people’s faith, ensuring they do truly desire becoming Christians.
By law, the German police can deport them, but in practice, they don't step on church premises. It means the refugees remain safe within the institutions’ confines until they are prepared to file court petitions for the right to seek asylum in Germany -- mostly on the grounds of religious persecution back home. If officials deny their application, they are to be deported to the first country in which they arrived in Europe.
Under the Dublin Regulation, refugees in European Union countries have to stay in the country they first entered and then process their paperwork for asylum.
The practice however irks some German officials, who initiated legal action against the Pastor.
"I’m not worried about that in the least. Then they should send me to the prison,” he told Deutsche Welle. “Compared to what’s in store for our people in Iran and Afghanistan, even a prison in Germany is still a luxury.”
The pastor said that officials recklessly close the files belonging to refugees after just a few hours assessing the applications on a case by case basis. He lamented that it takes him months to understand them himself.
There are suspicions that some refugees have only converted to Christianity in order to be able to seek “Church Asylum” -- a temporary sanctuary for those who don’t have legal residence.
Some Islamic organisations also regard converting people to Christianity as a form of abuse, as it seems to be the most viable option for refugees to stay in Germany. What is seemingly offered by churches is not provided in the country’s Mosques.
"You want to give bread in one hand and a Bible in the other," Bekir Alboga, general secretary of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, Germany's largest Islamic organisation, told the Washington Post.
"Almost all support and work for refugees are paid from the government to church organizations," Alboga said.
Even though it seems to be a rare practice, some religious institutions accept non-Christians without expecting them to return to Christianity. A German nun, Mechthild Thürmer, says there has been a Muslim man who m found refuge in her monastery. Mother Thurmer is also facing charges.
“In 2016 a young man from Iraq - I'll call him Raman - and a young German woman stood in front of the monastery door. He was desperate because he was about to be deported to Hungary, where he first entered the EU. He was very afraid of that -- he had been treated very badly in Hungary,” Mother Mechthild said.
“Raman painted in the monastery and fed the cows that we still had back then. Such a thing also gives self-affirmation. On Christmas Eve he - a Muslim - helped out in our church for a long time.”
According to Asyl in der Kirche, a nationwide association of church asylum networks in Germany, there are currently 351 spots offering church asylums. More than 535 people, including 107 children, are in church asylum as of March 25, 2021.