Christian asylum seekers in the Netherlands threatened with deportation to Iran


Western Europe


Photo RD, Henk Visscher

A Christian couple from Iran with a nine-year-old daughter has been locked up in a detention centre in the Dutch town of Zeist since Wednesday. The authorities rejected their request for asylum. On Tuesday, they are to be sent back to Iran.

The family was arrested Wednesday morning at 5 in the morning, the Reformatorisch Dagblad writes. They stayed at a family centre for asylum seekers in Bergum in the North of the Netherlands and were transferred to Kamp Zeist, says Rev Marco Buitenhuis. Buitenhuis is the minister of the Liberated Reformed Church (GKV) in Noordbergum. According to the pastor, the Dutch immigration service does not believe that father Sarang, mother Elham and daughter Anisa are genuinely Christian.

As converts, they are in danger in their own country, the pastor says. The family, of which the father converted to Christianity while still in Iran, fled to the Netherlands in 2018. Mother and daughter were baptised in 2019 in the Christian Reformed Church in the Dutch city of Breda. For the past few months, the family was part of the Liberated Reformed Church in Noordbergum, just like during their stay in the asylum centre in Bergum.

Daughter Anisa attended a reformed primary school in Kootstertille. "Past Sunday, Anisa was present in our Bible class. Next Sunday, she will be locked up in Zeist. Where will she be the Sunday after?" Rev Buitenhuis asks worriedly.

In the chat of his congregation's church app, Buitenhuis called his church members to pray for the Iranian family. He also called for prayer for the Dutch immigration service "to take good decisions and for our government to deal with refugees in a right way."

The minister furthermore stated that the refugee organisation VluchtelingenWerk is thinking about what it can do for the Iranian family.

Subjective process

Earlier research in the Netherlands showed that the decision-making process of the Dutch immigration service is partly subjective. Researcher Ralph Severijns found out that the decision on whether refugees are allowed to stay also depends on the considerations of individual caseworkers. "The opportunities for an asylum seeker can differ significantly, depending on which immigration officer handles his or her case", Severijns said in an interview with the Reformatorisch Dagblad.

What makes it hard for the officers to decide is that the cases are about inner processes in the minds of the asylum seekers, Severijns pointed out. "You cannot objectively check whether someone is truly converted." The Dutch immigration service has a protocol for dealing with converts. However, it can be interpreted differently by different officers who have to apply the guidelines to each case individually.

Dutch immigration officers told Severijns that they often talked to colleagues about handling uncertain conversion cases. That can lead to different ways of researching someone's story and the weight that the answers of the asylum seeker are given.



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