There has been heated debate on the role of religion in the refugee crisis.
Some attribute cruel terrorist cults to a specific religious ideology, while others claim they are merely a consequence of the interference of imperial powers. No matter how one looks at it, there can be no doubt about the restrictive nature of the religious ideologies in troubled areas such as the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia.
At AFFMA, we have dealt with clients who have experienced exactly how problematic a dominant national religious ideology can be. Lately, AFFMA’s team of pro bono solicitors and migration agents has been working on a permanent protection visa application for a Bangladeshi client who feared he would face religious persecution for renouncing his religion should he return to his homeland.
His story demonstrates the dangers of fundamental or radical religion and the necessity of achieving worldwide secularism.
Ostracised by his own community
Our client was ostracised by his community, including his own family, for leaving Islam, the religion he was born into.
Although he was simply exercising his right to choose his belief system, his decision to become agnostic was met with hostility by those closest to him. Apostates, sometimes called “infidel” or “kafir” in Islam, are often targeted by family and friends for leaving or even questioning their religion. Many chose to remain quiet, and are considered “closeted” agnostic, atheist, or convert.
Others run away to seek asylum, as in our client’s case.
Here is an extract from the case, taken with the client’s permission, recounted by one of our legal team volunteers:
As a child, this client struggled to express himself within the confinement of his heavily religious and conservative Islamic home. He felt he had no choice in the matter of becoming a Muslim, yet he also had no choice in leaving it.
Many times he suffered the threats of his own father and sometimes underwent scarring physical abuse simply because he alluded to having mere doubts about the religion.
In the community of Bangladesh, particularly the area he lived in, the man’s differing ideologies were publicly shunned and if anyone spoke of having doubts concerning religious beliefs they could be immediately reported to higher authorities.
Many feared the succeeding consequences of speaking out. He was living in constant fear.”
Another member of AFFMA’s leagl team, with access and permission, reported more extensively on this case. She writes that:
The issues that arose in this matter included whether there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate to the Department that the client was in fact agnostic, and that he faced persecution in Bangladesh based on these beliefs, were he made to return.”
1951 Refugee Convention
Here it should be mentioned that a lack of belief is considered a belief for the purposes of the 1951 Refugee Convention, as incorporated into Australian domestic law by the enactment of the Migration Act 1958. Australia has accepted atheism as grounds for asylum for those fleeing religious persecution.
The AFFMA team made submissions to the Department in support of our client, asserting that a conversion from Islam to agnosticism was a basis for a “well-founded fear of persecution” in a country such as Bangladesh, where more than 85 % of the population is Sunni Muslim and the national religion is Islam.
Posting or circulating “blasphemous” material in some countries can end in incarceration or death. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), anti-Islamist bloggers in Bangladesh are vulnerable to violence, with limited protection from the government. Sadly, it seems that the public agrees with the strict punishments put in place; in Bangladesh, many have even marched in favour of the death penalty.
The same volunteer migration lawyer noted that:
While the applicant was not a “high-profile blogger” and therefore lacked the notoriety and the corresponding high degree of risk of harm, the AFFMA team asserted that the applicant’s social media activity and the death threats directed at him meant that the applicant faced a significant risk of harm were he forced to return to Bangladesh.”
I would like to wish this brave individual the best. I hope to see him attain a protection visa and settle comfortably in a state where he will not be abused, ostracized, or threatened for his personal beliefs.