EHF warns U.N. about obstacles to asylum for persecuted non-believers

EHF warns U.N. about obstacles to asylum for persecuted non-believers

Posted on the 14/03/19

On 12 March, the European Humanist Federation took the floor at the United Nations in Geneva and urged the Human Rights Council to take strong action in order to facilitate asylum procedures for non-believers fleeing persecutions worldwide.

Although the UN Refugee Agency and the EU have issued guidelines to help governments dealing with this issue, in many countries, including EU Member States, the situation of non-believer asylum seekers is still very precarious, for various reasons.

First, despite both guidelines making it clear that religion-based asylum claims fully apply to people who hold non-theistic or atheistic beliefs, including those who leave religion (apostates), in several countries (e.g. Germany, the Netherlands or until recently the UK), government officers fail to correctly assess and understand the life-stances and situation of non-believers who seek asylum. Many of them are not aware of the risks that these people (and their relatives) face in their countries of origin and several cases have stressed the inadequacy of administrative questionnaires to assess claimants’ credibility.

Furthermore, where procedures have been improved (e.g. in the UK), it is thanks to the work of Humanist organisations that have provided trainings to government services.

Finally, the threats that target non-believers in their countries of origin (e.g. Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Sudan or Bangladesh – see last version of the Freedom of Thought report) do not stop when non-believers finally reach European countries. Too often, the threats continue in arrival centers, and come from believing migrants. Atheist and humanist asylum seekers are still not free to express safely their views once in Europe. This is the reason why, for instance, the NGO Atheist Refugee Relief in Germany urges the public authorities to provide for separate housing for non-believers.

You can read our full statement below



Human Rights Council, 40th session

General Debate Item 4



European Humanist Federation


Thank you Mr President.


The European Humanist Federation would like to draw the Council’s attention on an issue that is often politically neglected although it affects a large number of people worldwide.

Many people must leave their country and community after facing persecutions because of the beliefs and the religious views they hold or do not hold: these people are atheists, agnostics, rationalists, humanists, non-believers and free-thinkers.

Religion and beliefs are one of the five grounds on which people can request asylum or international protection. Both the UN Refugee Agency1 and the European Union2 have made it clear in their Guidelines on asylum claims that the concept of religion shall include the holding of non-theistic and atheistic beliefs.

However, in practice, asylum claims based on conversion to atheism and renouncement of religion are not well understood by government officers in Europe. This often leads to asylum denials that endanger non-believers’ life.

Except in countries where training has been provided by humanist organisations like in the UK, assessment procedures fail to understand the life-stance and the situation of non-believers who request asylum in Europe.

Inadequate administrative questionnaires and peer pressure in arrival centers are widespread obstacles that need to be addressed urgently and efficiently.

We therefore urge the Council to strengthen the existing UN Guidelines to improve the implementation of asylum procedures on belief grounds in Europe and beyond. These Guidelines should include the need for training government officers when it comes to “assessing” atheism and non-belief, but also cater for the effective protection of asylum-seekers in arrival centers.


Thank you Mr President.



1. GUIDELINES ON INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION: Religion-Based Refugee Claims under Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, 2004

2. DIRECTIVE 2011/95/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 13 December 2011 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted, article 10



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