People being given church asylum | Imago/C.Mang
People being given church asylum | Imago/C.Mang

In Austria, a refugee from Pakistan is to be sent back to his homeland despite church asylum, Spiegel Online reports. He fears that Islamists seek to kill him at home because he sought sanctuary in a Christian monastery.

Ali Wajid was considered a model refugee: well-integrated, hardworking and popular. The 23-year-old, who came to Austria in 2015, began an apprenticeship to become a waiter in the fall of 2017. Many Austrian newspapers referred to his case when writing about asylum seekers in apprenticeships. His application for asylum, however,  was rejected in two instances, and a subsequent revision by the higher administrative court was rejected.

In July of last year, Wajid fled to the monastery St. Peter in Salzburg, where he received protection for half a year. While church asylum offers no legal protection to refugees in Austria — or Germany — it is usually tolerated by the state. In Germany, those affected receive a corresponding document, are able to move around freely and pursue a job. Wajid was tolerated on condition that he checked in with police every 48 hours.

Last Thursday, Wajid was taken into custody during one of his routine check-ins with the police, Spiegel Online reported on Friday. According to Wajid's guardian, human rights activist Bernhard Jenny, Wajid sent him a text message saying "They have kept me." He also called Jenny twice before his phone was taken. Jenny told Spiegel Online he hasn’t been able to get a hold of Wajid since, and that police told him Wajid is on his way to Vienna for "custody prior to deportation," which Austria’s interior ministry confirmed.

Wajid had been given notice to leave the country voluntarily after he received negative decisions on his asylum application and the subsequent appeal. He did not, however, provide proof of organizing a return trip, which is why the ministry had initiated a forced return procedure.   

When approached by InfoMigrants, different refugee organizations said the total number of church asylums is unknown as situations like Wajid's are "isolated cases." In Germany, there were 546 known cases of churches providing asylum last December, including 193 children, according to statistics from the federal ecumenical task force "Asylum in the Church."

Christians fear violence in Pakistan

In his home country Pakistan, Christians like Wajid face violence by Islamists, especially because Wajid sought sanctuary in a Christian monastery. Human rights activist Jenny told Spiegel Online that radical Muslims could blame Wajid for converting to Christianity. A deportation to Pakistan would have “dramatic consequences,” Jenny said. Austrian clerics also criticized the action undertaken by authorities.

The Austrian government has stepped up deportations in 2018: With a total of 12,611 deportations, the number increased by 47 percent compared to the year before.

Jenny hopes for a compromise with the authorities, namely more time to organize Wajid's departure to a third country. That would require a visa, however, which can take time.

Last November, the case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani-Christian woman accused of blasphemy, attracted attention worldwide. The suspension of this ruling provoked violent protests; now, the case is being reviewed again by a court. 

Most of the article was adapted from Spiegel Online's report in German.

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