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Iranian refugees convert to Christianity

Survey reveals an increase in baptisms among asylum seekers in Denmark.


The total number of asylum seekers in Denmark rose to 21,225 in 2015. In previous years the main nationalities have been Syrians, Eritreans and Afghans, but last year a new group arrived in large numbers, namely Iranians. At total of 2,772 Iranians registered in Denmark making them the second largest nationality, numbering almost ten times as many as previous years

A growing number of Iranians have in recent decades converted to Christianity globally, and the tendency is continuing in many European countries. Due to the steep increase in Iranians coming to Denmark as well as reports of large baptismal classes in various churches across Denmark, the Christian Refugee Network (Danish: Folkekirkens Asylsamarbejde) – a part of the Council on International Relations of the ELCD – decided to make a survey amongst pastors in the vicinity of asylum centres in order to establish the number of Iranians who recently converted to Christianity or who were in a conversion process. 

Based on responses from pastors across the country in April 2015, the survey concluded that at least 100 Iranians had been baptised within the previous three months and that at least 250 Iranian asylum seekers were preparing for baptism. As a new development the trend affected churches in all parts of Denmark, whereas previously only the major cities experienced this phenomenon.

Asylum seekers from other backgrounds are also requesting baptism, for example Afghans, Kurds and various nationalities from Arabic background. However, the Iranian people group dominates the figures by far

Minister of Church Affairs: Asylum seekers should postpone baptism
As a response to the media report following the publication of the survey results, the government’s minister for church affairs released a statement recommending pastors to await the outcome of the asylum application and thus not baptise asylum seekers at all. However, the bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark responded that if people request baptism, a pastor should not reject them. At the same time they pointed to the guidelines that were developed in 2004 regarding asylum seekers’ conversion, which highlight that several months of baptismal preparation should take place beforebaptism

The recent increase in Iranian conversions as well as the government’s response sheds light on the fact that conversion of asylum seekers is a complex matter. For this very reason, the Christian Refugee Network is continuously working to increase awareness and knowledge of possible pitfalls, both amongst pastors and amongst the immigration authorities that are assessing the credibility of conversions as part of the asylum procedure.

By Søren Dalsgaard, coordinator for the Christian Refugee Network