Religious Freedom in Danish Asylum Centres

March 22, 2018

Along with the influx of asylum seekers into Europe in recent years came a series of disturbing media reports on Danish asylum centers. According to these reports, asylum seekers, in most cases Christians, had been harassed and intimidated by other asylum seekers. Reportedly, some of the offenders were Muslims.

Kareem McDonald, Program Associate, Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team

Kareem McDonald, Program Associate, Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team

As a Muslim who is passionate about religious freedom for people of all religions, I wanted to get to the bottom of these reports.  No one should be harassed or intimidated because of their religion. This is especially true of highly vulnerable asylum seekers.

Last month I completed my Master’s thesis research at the University of Copenhagen on religious freedom in Danish asylum centers.  Tomorrow (Friday, March 23) I will present the findings of my research at the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C.

I found that some Danish pastors and other religious leaders are questioning the approaches Danish asylum center managers have taken. These religious leaders are concerned with how asylum center managers handle religious freedom rights – for example, to worship alone or in communion with others, or to receive visits from and consult with a representative of one’s own religion.

I also found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, religious symbols and the celebration of religious holidays in asylum centers have been a frequent source of contention, with asylum center managers having to mediate the differing views. Further, the concept of fairness and neutrality for the asylum center itself is hotly contested.

Despite the growing importance of this issue, I am aware of no other academic study focusing on how religious-freedom law applies and how asylum center managers consider their role in relations to religious freedom in the context of an asylum center. My hope is that my research will spur additional investigation and research into these crucial concerns for highly vulnerable asylum seekers.

At the Religious Freedom Institute event this Friday, I will explore what protecting religious freedom for asylum seekers means in asylum centers. I have interviewed asylum center managers and religious leaders and will discuss their attitudes, understandings, and approaches to religious freedom and to finding constructive paths forward in asylum center management.

Please RSVP here to join us for this event:

Kareem Padraig A. McDonald is a Program Associate on the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team at the Religious Freedom Institute. He lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.