Asylum without God: The Refugee Crisis in Europe

How do we begin to understand the crisis in Europe? Perhaps we should start with understanding the climate problems and political persecution in Syria that led to the situation today. Perhaps we should remember Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy whose dead body on the shores of Turkey was captured in a heart-wrenching photo and shared by millions around the world. Perhaps, in understanding that words hold enormous emotional and political power in social justice discussions, the media should determine once and for all that this is “refugee” crisis, not a “migrant” crisis.

Idomeni, Greece - August 19 , 2015: Hundreds of refugees at the border between Greece and Macedonia waiting for the right time to continue their journey.
If there is a silver lining to be found in this grave situation, it is that millions of people around the world are now aware of the civil war in Syria and other conflicts that resulted in 19 million people fleeing from persecution—and a humanitarian response is urgently needed. What can the global community do to help? It’s easy to advocate that Europe establish an open-door policy to welcome the refugees, but Europe’s history of reluctance further complicates the situation. Though Germany’s open policy to welcome all refugees is compassionate and in line with what most are advocating for, critics warn from a practical standpoint that the country may be unable to accommodate future demand. And despite the European Union’s pride in its ability to preserve peaceful coexistence of multiple countries in close proximity, the migrant crisis comes at a time when economic recovery is still in progress (Greece, for example) and when generosity of spirit and open-handed extension of resources are out of practice. There is another issue that humanists should be concerned about: the refugees are often being favored or discriminated against by religious identity. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, dubbed the “Donald Trump of Europe,” warned of his concern about preserving Europe’s “Christian roots" and has physically prevented the influx of Muslims by closing access to Germany, as this New York Times op-ed contributor argues. Cyprus, willing to take only 300 refugees, expressed preference for Christian refugees. And hundreds of Muslims in Berlin are converting to Christianity to improve their chances of gaining refugee status. Humanist organizations have the opportunity to speak out against this blatant discrimination. As president of the European Humanist Federation, Pierre Galand, said:

We are committed to the building of a more humane society through an ethical approach based on humanism. We believe that refugees and migrants are first and foremost human beings who hold human rights and should be treated as such. Refugees and migrants not only contribute economically and demographically to our societies, they also bring with them new cultures and traditions that contribute to a rich and diverse society. Only a clear separation between religion and politics can accommodate everyone, regardless of religion or convictions. We therefore strongly condemn countries that seek to discriminate on the basis of religion or beliefs.

Similarly, the Atheist Foundation of Australia is calling on the Australian government to “adopt a transparent, fully non-discriminatory protocol for selecting 12,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement in Australia, equitably considering applicants of all faiths, and of no faith at all.” As we work to ensure refugees are treated humanely and fairly as they seek asylum, humanists can support relief efforts for the refugees. In the US, Foundation Beyond Belief is monitoring the crisis and may initiate a fundraising drive for humanists who want to help financially. The British Humanist Association is also encouraging its members to donate food and clothing to secular relief efforts. The global community must respond quickly to help save the lives of millions of these refugees who are simply looking for a safe place to call home. And it must do so regardless of their religion, race, or gender.Tags: