Sunday, October 13, 2013

African migrants risk lives to flee war and persecution

Freedom to choose faith one factor driving them into smugglers' boats

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

LAMPEDUSA, ITALY (ANS) -- The latest tragic incident of hundreds of African migrants drowning in European waters tells a wider story, says World Watch Monitor (, in an article released on Tuesday, October 8, 2013.

Italian Coast Guard vessel brings survivors to Lampedusa harbor. Most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia (AFP/Guardia Costiera)
"Scratch beneath the surface and for many of the migrants, their stories are not only of wanting a better life. Often they will be of fleeing persecution or conflict at home, and paying their life savings to smugglers who promise their passage to the safety of European shores," the story says.

"The sinking of a boat carrying around 500 migrants Oct. 3, killing at least 232 of them, is the latest in a long line of accidents in which vulnerable migrants pay with their lives after the failure of vessels often described as 'unseaworthy'".

Father Mussie Zerai, Chairman of the Habeshia Agency, which works on behalf of these migrants, says he believes the majority of those involved in last's week's shipwreck were Christians.

This picture says it all
"I look at the list of the survivors and 90 per cent is Christian," he said. "They are coming from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The situation is very bad because politically in Eritrea there is a dictator and they live without any type of freedom or democracy. Many Christians are persecuted because of their faith. It's not easy for them to live in Eritrea at this moment."

World Watch Monitors goes on to say that an Ethiopian migrant who survived the same crossing hit the European media last year when five human rights groups wrote a letter to the Netherlands then-minister of immigration and asylum affairs, to plead for him to be given the right to remain.

Abu Kurke Kebato, in his early 20s, was one of only nine survivors in a boat carrying 72, which had left Libya, only to languish at sea for two weeks before drifting back to Libyan shores.

Kurke Kebato told the BBC that he had then been arrested by the Libyan authorities while "on his way to church" after his arrival back in Libya.

The body of one of the migrants killed after their boat caught fire last week (Noborder network / Flickr / Creative Commons)
"Upon his forced return to Libya in 2010, Mr. Kurke Kebato was then detained for eight months during which time he alleges he was subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," wrote the five human rights organizations.

He then made a second attempt to reach Europe, with his wife, and this time they were successful. However, the couple were set to be deported from the Netherlands until human rights organizations intervened. He now lives there and says he is "happy in a democracy".

"In Eritrea, even in Ethiopia, we need more freedom, democracy and peace. That is the solution. We can give them asylum, but that is not the solution."

The UN High Commission for Refugees' Adrian Edwards agrees that many migrants seem to have little choice but to flee their home countries when it becomes a matter of life and death.

"You have to think of the tragedy that lies behind this, which is that many of these people are likely to have been fleeing war, fleeing persecution, fleeing human rights abuses in their own countries, so this is a tremendous tragedy of multiple layers," he told the BBC.

Survivors being brought ashore
World Watch Monitor then said, that the ship had travelled from Libya, but many of its passengers had already travelled a great distance in their quest to reach Europe. According to the UN, most of the passengers on the boat, which sank nearby the island of Lampedusa off the coast of Italy, were from Eritrea and Somalia, about 2,000 miles from Libya's coast.

The number of immigrants dying while attempting to reach Europe's borders in the last 25 years has risen to almost 20,000.

Pope Francis called Friday a "day of tears".

Pope Francis, whose first official visit was to the island in July to witness the mass migrant arrivals, condemned "global indifference" to the plight of immigrants, and said the incident was an "outrage," calling Friday a "day of tears".

Figures from the UN say 3,000 people try to flee Eritrea each month, while human rights groups have said the country is becoming a giant jail, with estimates of around 10,000 political prisoners.

The story added that Somalia, meanwhile, has been ravaged by two decades of war and large parts of it are under the control of Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

More than 30,000 immigrants have journeyed to Italy by sea so far this year, including 7,500 each from Eritrea and Syria and 3,000 from Somalia, according to the UN.

Fr. Zerai says the international community must do more. Granting asylum to a few is not enough, he says.
Migrants are detained after their arrival in the temporary shelter Center in Lampedusa, Italy(Tullio M. Puglia / Getty Images)

"All mass media, all international organizations and civic society need to push the international community to do something to change the situation," he told World Watch Monitor. "In Eritrea, even in Ethiopia, we need more freedom, democracy and peace. That is the solution. We can give them asylum, but that is not the solution."

In May, World Watch Monitor reported that religious persecution in Eritrea is at its "highest ever level and getting worse", according to Christian charity Open Doors International.

The number of Christians incarcerated in Eritrea because of their faith is thought to be around 1,200, according to the charity, although some estimates claim the figure is as high as 3,000.

Eritrea is ranked 10th on the World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which Christians are most under pressure for their faith.

"When Christians [in Eritrea] are discovered, they are arrested and held in shipping containers in military camps. At least 105 Christians were arrested in 2012, and 31 Christians were reported to have died in prison," the World Watch List reports.

European Parliament Calls for Release of American Pastor Saeed Abedini

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Pastor Saeed Abedini and his family during happier times
STRASBOURG, FRANCE (ANS) -- The European Parliament today (Thursday, October 10, 2013) passed a resolution that called for the exoneration and release of American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is imprisoned in Iran simply because of his Christian faith.

"Our team at the ACLJ, along with our European affiliate - the European Centre for Law and Justice - has been meeting with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) detailing the facts surrounding the illegal imprisonment of Pastor Saeed, a U.S. citizen," said Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ).

In a press release issued today, the European Parliament, based in Strasbourg, France, reported the passage of the resolution, which had broad cross-party support, focusing on Pastor Saeed: "The fate of Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran is also a matter of deep concern to MEPs, who called on the government to exonerate and release him immediately."

The resolution expressed that the European Parliament "is deeply concerned about the fate of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for over a year and was sentenced to eight years of prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs" and called on the government of Iran to exonerate and release Pastor Saeed and other prisoners held for their religious beliefs.

Additionally, the Parliament "call[ed] on Iran to take steps to ensure that full respect is shown for the right to freedom of religion or belief, including by ensuring that its legislation and practices fully conform to Article 18 of the ICCPR"; recognizing that this fundamental right includes "the right of everyone to change his or her religion, if he or she so chooses". The resolution on Pastor Saeed is found on page 124 of the document posted here.

"This action signifies an important step forward in raising this issue to a new level - keeping pressure on Iran and keeping Pastor Abedini in the news. The resolution is already generating news coverage in Europe and the Middle East," added Jordan Sekulow.

"We are very grateful for the support of those Members of European Parliament who are standing for religious liberty and freedom and demanding that Iran release Pastor Abedini immediately.

"This important development comes just weeks after President Obama raised Pastor Saeed's case with Iranian President Rouhani in a phone call - the first direct communications between an American president and the leader of Iran in more than 30 years."

He went on to say, "There's growing pressure internationally for Iran to free Pastor Saeed. As Iran continues to try and build diplomatic relations with western countries, releasing Pastor Saeed, who has been wrongfully imprisoned for more than one year in Iran's Evin Prison, would be a significant confidence building measure.

"More than 625,000 people around the world have signed on to our petition urging the release of Pastor Saeed, and nearly 170,000 have written a letter directly to Iran's president calling for Pastor Saeed's freedom. If you haven't done so already, sign our petition and write a letter in support of Pastor Saeed."

The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) -- -- represents Pastor Saeed's wife, Naghmeh and their two young children, who live in the United States. Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the ACLJ is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has affiliated offices in Israel, Russia, Kenya, France, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe.

Twenty-five Christian buildings marked for demolition

A church that was destroyed in Yobe State,
 Nigeria (Photo by Voice of the Martyrs Canada)
Nigeria (MNN/VOMC) ― Government authorities in northern Nigeria's Borno state plan to demolish 25 churches and schools, ostensibly to make room for new housing. However, no plans for the housing development have been produced, says Voice of the Martyrs Canada. Christian leaders believe this is yet another attempt by local governments in northern Nigeria to persecute the Christian minority. (Other informative reports can be accessed at the Nigeria Country Report.)

The proposed demolitions would compound the security challenges that these believers are already facing from the militant group, Boko Haram. "We have seen the eviction notice from the Borno state government," says Dr. Asake, general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria. "We are Nigerians, and there are other places where the state government can develop. The areas earmarked for demolition are already developed with churches and schools. Christians have already suffered enough in Borno state."

Pray that the demolitions will not go through, and that God would maintain these places for worship, education, and meeting. Pray that these Nigerians will be successful in sharing the gospel with their Muslim neighbors.

Kazakh pastor faces new charges

Kazakhstan (MNN) ― A Kazakh pastor has been rearrested on new charges after already being in prison for 5 months. Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev was arrested in May for "inflicting damages" on one of his parishioners through his sermons. 

Kashkumbaev spent about a month in a psychiatric clinic during his pretrial detention. The court in Astana recently ruled that he could be transferred to house arrest due to his poor health. On October 8, police rearrested Kashkumbaev on new charges, just moments after he was released from the detention center in Astana.

As Mission Network News posted in June, Wade Kusack with Russian Ministries says Kashkumbaev was accused of serving hallucinogens in a "red drink." He says, "The 'red drink' that was confiscated from the church was just red tea to serve as non-alcoholic communion."

Along with original charges, other charges include exerting psychological influence over the congregation. During the first court hearing, police showed a video of prayers and singing that was made during one of the services.

Kashkumbaev's lawyer, Nrulan Beisekeev, stated the new charges on Kashkumbaev were related to alleged extremism. 

As a Christian converted from Islam, Kashkumbaev and his supporters insist that the charges against him are politically motivated. Because of Kazakhstan's new religious law, Kusack and other Christians in Kazakhstan believe he was arrested and rearrested as punishment from law enforcement officials who consider themselves Muslim. 

Kashkumbaev poses a threat to Muslims because he says everyone should be able to practice their own religion freely. 
According to the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List, Kazakhstan is #48 out of the 50 ranking countries where Christian persecution is most severe. Pray for the permanent release of Pastor Kashkumbaev.