Europe continues to face an unprecedented refugee crisis with no end in sight, with nearly 1.2 million new asylum applications in 2016 – 9% more than in 2015. According to the 2016 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Global Report, the applicants originate mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria). In the two last countries, civil war and violent extremism have created an alarming humanitarian situation resulting in a massive exodus of the population.
Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Ismailis and other religious minorities have been particularly targeted by the terrorist group “ISIS” for their beliefs, which in some cases had led to them to flee genocidal violence. After being treated as second-class citizens for years, they hope to find security, dignity, tolerance, equality in Europe, and respect for their fundamental human rights, including religious freedom.
Regrettably, many refugees have continued to suffer from discrimination, violence and sometimes death because of their minority beliefs even after reaching Europe, in many cases at the hands of fellow refugees. In Resolution 2050 (2015), the Parliamentary Assembly highlighted cases where Christians have been thrown out of boats crossing the Mediterranean. There are also widespread reports of cases where refugees have been attacked for their beliefs in reception centers and refugee camps across Europe – in a 2016 report Open Doors for instance documented hundreds of religiously motivated attacks on Christians and Yazidis in German refugee shelters.
As member States are working to implement best practice to care for refugees and migrants in accordance with the core values of the Council of Europe, including equality and the protection of minorities, the Assembly should closely examine this challenging reality and propose recommendations aimed at effectively protecting minorities having fled religiously motivated violence, and upholding freedom of thought, conscience and religion in reception centers and refugee camps.