How to overcome religious prejudice among refugees
I met Amer *, a young Syrian Druze refugee, at a smoke-filled cafe in the Berlin borough of Neukölln. “Before the war,” he told me, “no one would care if you were a Muslim, Christian, Druze, or anything else. I am Syrian. We are all Syrian. But now, people want to know what your religion is and then they will act differently towards you. This is the problem.”
I’ve heard many statements like these over the course of my research on the experiences of Syrian refugees from religious minority backgrounds. Whether in Turkey, Jordan, or now in Germany, where I am currently during research, I’m finding a growing divide among Syrian refugees on the basis of religion – or of sectarianism.
There has been much attention across Europe on the religious intolerance and prejudices held by far-right political parties and other groups towards refugees. But religious prejudice is also a feature and challenge of relations between refugees – and this must be better understood if it is to be overcome.
Attacks in refugee centres
In 2016, at a Düsseldorf refugee centre, lunch was served during the Ramadan month of fasting. A dispute ensued and two refugees burned down the hall in protest, later standing trial for the religiously motivated crime. Later in 2016, a report revealed other accounts of attacks on religious minority refugees, particularly against converts to Christianity, in refugee centres across Germany.
People I interviewed told me of harassment they had experienced from other refugees, sometimes for religious reasons. Often the accounts may seem subtle – from a young Christian woman questioned by a Muslim woman as to why she was not wearing a veil. Or a Muslim man telling another Muslim that he is “kafir” (an infidel) for eating pork. Those refugees who have faced such harassment, however, experience significant discomfort and insecurity from these incidents.
In other cases, refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and Germany told me they had experienced overt acts of intolerance, including physical attacks for wearing a religious symbol, such as a cross, or for not attending prayer services.