Freedom of belief when seeking asylum in Ireland

Atheist Ireland has sent a Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee. Ireland is up before the Committee in October for the pre-session under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In our submission we raised the issue of freedom of belief when seeking asylum in Ireland as well as access to wefare and housing support as the Direct Provision centres are not suitable places for those fleeing persecution.

You can find our Submission here

Here is the section from our Submission to the UN:-

11. Article 2, Article 18, Article 13 — Freedom of Belief when seeking asylum

Questions: Will the State respect the right of asylum seekers to self determination on the basis of religion or belief?
Will the State ensure that asylum seekers have access to welfare and housing support as the Direct Provision centres are not suitable places for those fleeing persecution?

There are applicants who seek asylum in Ireland because of persecution on the basis of religion or belief. The system in place treats vulnerable people with suspicion. Self determination in relation to beliefs is an essential part of the right to Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Immigrants who are members of minority religions can face an overlap of ethnic and religious prejudice and discrimination. We are particularly aware of this with regard to our colleagues in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland and the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland.

Atheist ex-Muslims in the asylum process face two particular problems. One, the State sometimes insists that they are still Muslims and that they would be safe being sent back to States where they would be in danger. And two, Muslims in the asylum process can be hostile towards ex-Muslims in the asylum process if they are not seen to be practising Islam.

We are aware of an applicant who has been told by the Irish State that he is a Muslim, because he grew up in a Muslim family, despite the fact that he is an atheist and that has told the State that he is an atheist. This is no different from telling an applicant that they are not a particular type of Muslim. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community suffers persecution and discrimination in Pakistan and are viewed as non-Muslims by other Muslims.

Essentially the Department of Justice and Equality is deciding whether or not a person is or is not an atheist or a member of a particular religion. But the State is not entitled to declare that a person’s religious or nonreligious belief is not what the person tells them it is.

As an aside, even if the Department could in principle make such a determination, there is no reliable basis on which to make it. The Irish State has not even defined what a religion is. In Ireland many people refer to themselves as belonging to a particular religion, and they don’t practice that religion or attend religious services. No government department has ever told them that they do not belong to that religion because they don’t practice it or attend services. There is no reason to treat applicants differently, by arbitrarily and unlawfully assigning beliefs to them that they do not hold.

We get complaints from some applicants in the asylum process that they face harassment in the Direct Provision Centres because of their beliefs. They have fled persecution and are faced with a situation whereby they have to hide their beliefs and cannot express their beliefs in Direct Provision Centres.

Particularly around the time of Ramadan, ex Muslims are harassed because they are not fasting. We have also been told that ex Muslims have asked to be moved to other centres because of this harassment.

The lack of privacy in Asylum Centres put applicants in a perilous position as they must continue to hide their beliefs. They still have family at home who could be subject to persecution and whose situation would be further undermined if it was known that they had a family member that was ex Muslim or fleeing persecution in their home country.

It is not only particular States that persecute people if they dissent from a particular religion but also members of the general public. The Direct Provision centres are not suitable places for those fleeing persecution. Applicants should be afforded equal treatment with citizens, to access welfare and housing supports.

“U.S. Periodic Report on the ICCPR” by US Mission Geneva is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Atheist Ireland