Praying for Asylum Our World


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Praying for Asylum

In the Netherlands and across Europe, thousands of Iranian refugees are converting to Christianity. Are these converts 'born-again Christians' or simply praying for asylum?


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Now it's time for Our World.

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In the Netherlands and across Europe, thousands of Iranian

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refugees are turning to Christianity.

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Tired of the lack of freedom in the Islamic Republic,

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they say conversion offers a new start.

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And it's a much needed boost to Dutch church congregations.

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Every week two traditional churches are closing in this country.

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But converting to Christianity can carry a heavy penalty in Iran

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and some say the refugees are only joining the church

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so they won't be sent back.

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I lied to them.

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Most Iranians regard this to be the best way,

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it's not just me.

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The difficulty is that we can't look into people's minds and hearts.

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The difficulty is that we can't look into people's minds and hearts.

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I've been reporting on refugee stories for many years

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and now I'm in the Netherlands to find out why so many Iranians

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are converting to Christianity.

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Are they born again or simply praying for asylum?

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It's a Sunday morning near Dorne, in the central Netherlands

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and preparations are under way for a special ceremony.

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Orif, an Iranian student, in his 20s, is getting ready

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to be baptised.

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Converting to Christianity can be punished by death in Iran and he's

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scared to show his face on camera in case it causes problems

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for his family back home.

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Orif came to the Netherlands over a year ago and left Islam

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after meeting Christians in Europe.

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TRANSLATION: The Christians I met were really nice and at

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the beginning I wondered how these people could be so good.

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I wanted to know more about their opinions

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and what they actually thought.

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And when I read about it, I realised that I knew nothing

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about Christianity because where we grew up everything was closed,

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you couldn't get information.

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The fact that everything in Christian tee is based

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on compassion and love is extraordinary.

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This was the first thing I saw in people here.

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Some here have asked us not to show their faces.

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The baptism will be performed by the Dutch pastor of this church,

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Vaast.

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In baptism that is the moment that someone, he's no longer a secret

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believer, but now he's coming out and he's professing his faith

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and that he wants to be a follower of Jesus.

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APPLAUSE.

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Orif has come here with Dutch friends from his church

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which is a huge part of his life here.

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Although Orif has found a surrogate family in the church,

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his own parents, back in Iran, have cut him off financially

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since his conversion.

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Although Orif has found a surrogate family in the church,

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his own parents, back in Iran, have cut him off financially

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since his conversion.

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TRANSLATION: I grew up in a religious family,

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it's really hard for them to accept other beliefs.

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Since I've changed my beliefs, they've become aggressive

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towards me.

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All my attempts to make peace with them have been futile.

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Orif is just one of three Iranians being baptised here today.

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How often do you baptise people?

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An average of 25 per year.

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Vaast tells me many of the Iranians here come from the local refugee

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centre just down the road.

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For Iranians wanting to stay here, conversion to Christianity can be

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the basis of a successful asylum claim.

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Converts argue that their new faith would expose them to persecution

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if they were sent home.

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Vaast tells me that not everyone who asks for baptism

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is entirely genuine.

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If someone is entering here into the church and the same

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day, first day, he is asking me, "When can I be baptised?"

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Then I know enough.

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I know he has a case and that he's searching for baptism and then

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I explain that it will not help him.

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That the certificate will not help him because our government

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is not mad.

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They can easily come to know if you are a real believer or not

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and I'm also not willing to help you with such a thing

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because we are a church, we are followers of Jesus Christ.

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We try to please him and we are not some group who is helping refugees

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to get asylum here.

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Orif seems to be very genuine, he'd spent about a year preparing

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to be baptised, but I've heard of many cases of Iranian refugees

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who have been baptised in a very short time after converting.

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There are no exact numbers for how many Iranians have been baptised

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across Europe in recent years.

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Many of them come to Christianity through Persische, one

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of the largest Persian churches in Europe, famous

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for sharing their activities online.

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The leader, Masood, has baptised literally thousands of Iranian

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converts from the streets of Paris to Turkey.

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He tells me he himself got baptised on his first day in the Netherlands,

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over 17 years ago.

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Soon after converting, Masood set up his church here.

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Soon after converting, Masood set up his church here.

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Masood often let's refugees stay with him while they're waiting

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to hear about their asylum claims and he introduces me to a man,

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Masood often let's refugees stay with him while they're waiting

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to hear about their asylum claims and he introduces me to a man,

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we will call him Syed, who admits he only converted

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as he thought it would help his case.

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TRANSLATION: I became a Christian to live in the Netherlands,

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it was the best possible option.

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Syed was turned down for asylum and is now trying to appeal.

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It's easy to imagine wht immigrants like him would risk lying

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to the authorities.

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Christianity can be the gateway to a new life in Europe.

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I'm on my way to meet Ali, a young Iranian living with a Dutch

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family, who met him in church and are now helping him to get

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settled into Dutch society.

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He has been granted asylum in the Netherlands and is living

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with Christians Yoka and her husband Ronald.

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We saw on television, I think like everybody did,

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the big wave of refugees coming in 2015 and then it was at the end

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of 2015 the start of 2016, that they also contacted us

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as a church and they said, "We want to know more about

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Christianity.

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We want to be baptised."

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They come to us, "Can you help me talk to the doctor?

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Can you help me talk to the lawyer?"

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We try to help them with their documents and translate

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for them whatever we can.

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Although Ali may be far from home, he gets to enjoy a little Iranian

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companionship in Bible studies held at his house each week,

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where they sing Christian hymns in farsi.

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All these men came to the Netherlands as refugees,

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most of them have been turned down for asylum.

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We're hiding their identities for their safety in case

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they are sent back to Iran.

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One of them, Sorop, not his real name, explains why he left?

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TRANSLATION: The force and the oppression were constant,

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they torment us for everything.

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The way we dressed, our hairstyle or because we ate during Ramadan.

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I've been in the Netherlands for 16 months, before that

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I was in the Jungle in Calais for almost four months,

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I wanted to go to England.

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I arrived here after a dangerous journey.

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It was by God's grace that I didn't die, for many people did die.

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I eventually got here, but my case was not accepted.

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They didn't believe I was a Christian.

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I don't know why.

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Sorop says he converted to Christianity years ago in Iran,

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but he's still covering the basics in Bible studies.

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And he didn't seem to know simple facts about Jesus' life.

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We know that in this country the number of Christians is now less

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than it used to be.

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In fact, we are a minority now, I believe.

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Now we see that people from other countries are coming

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and they are new in their new religion and they have a lot

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of questions.

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That's also good for the church because now Christians that

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are Christians for many years have to think about,

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what do I believe?

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Why do I believe it?

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Can I explain it to a new believer?

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So it's also good for them.

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It's hard to know what to think, but these guys are saying

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they are really into Christianity and they converted into Christianity

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facing so many threats in Iran, but they're not able

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to answer basic questions.

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In 2015, there were just over 45,000 applications for asylum

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in the Netherlands, just under 2,000 of them were from Iranians.

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I've come to where the Dutch immigration authority,

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the IND, interview asylum seekers to find out how they work out

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who are the genuine believers.

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I think we have interviews with asylum seekers who claim that

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they've converted to Christianity basically every day and I think more

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than one every day.

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It started like a couple of years ago, maybe 2010,

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around that time, it might be the situations in the country

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of origin, like the places that people come from.

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It might also be that churches have become more active in evangelising

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people and it might be that smugglers have been telling them

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stories about how to get asylum in the Netherlands and in Europe.

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Isn't it hard for you to say someone is really genuine?

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The difficulty is that we can't look into people's minds and hearts.

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Initially, basically, a lot of our questions were focused

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on practical knowledge, like biblical knowledge.

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We have shifted now to questions that are focused more on the process

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that people have gone through and their personal experiences.

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We don't only look at, for example, certificates of baptism.

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Biblical knowledge can be studied, but when you ask someone in-depth

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questions about their personal thoughts and feelings

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and experiences and their motivations, yeah, I think you get

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a better hunch or a better idea of how genuine the conversion is.

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The IND do not keep statistics for why people are granted asylum,

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but of the 1,885 Iranians who applied for asylum in 2015,

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only 340 cases were granted.

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I've come to see Sorop from the Bible study group again,

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he's staying at a refugee centre while he waits to hear the outcome

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of his appeal.

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He shows me his letter of rejection from the IND,

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which is in Dutch.

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TRANSLATION: The reasons they rejected my claim.

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They did not believe me, that's their opinion,

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but there's no window to a person's heart,

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so you can open it and see inside.

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The documents set out in the detail the ways in which the immigration

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officials found his story to be inconsistent.

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The Immigration Service said he also didn't have the depth of knowledge

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and understanding of Christianity that they would expect.

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TRANSLATION: I explained to them that I spoke normally,

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the way I spoke in my neighbourhood.

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I'm just a normal guy with a high school diploma,

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it's their fault that they didn't understand me.

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When I found out I had been rejected, you may not believe me,

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but I thanked God because finally I had a decision.

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If there was freedom in Iran and everybody

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could have their own ideas and follow their own religion,

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then I would have gone back.

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My mother is there and she's the most precious thing to me.

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She has told me to return, but it's just not possible.

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Sorop is still waiting to hear about the outcome of his appeal.

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Conversion doesn't just change the lives of Iranians,

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in parts of the Netherlands it's also transforming the church itself.

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I've been invited to Vaast's church for the Sunday service,

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it's not like anything I've ever seen before.

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The hymns are sung in Farsi and Dutch and all the preaching

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is translated too.

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It is more chaotic and you know the Dutch churches, if it starts

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at 10.00am, it starts exactly at 10.00am, maybe one minute late,

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but not two minutes late it starts, but now this is impossible.

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Some people may think that these changes, they may change

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the church's character.

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Yes, it is.

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What do you think about that?

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Yes, it is changing.

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That was our wish because the church is dying in Europe and in

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the Netherlands too.

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Every week two traditional churches are closing in this country.

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Every week, you see.

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That is because of the identities, it's kind of only old people

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are sitting there and I have the wish always and that is,

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we do this, it's intercultural and mixing up the cultures

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because we do learn a lot of one another.

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Not everyone is happy about the changes happening here,

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several Dutch families have left the congregation.

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Simon used to do the music at the church, but he didn't

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like what was happening and left a few years ago.

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We are used to very international communities, society

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and we loved it.

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I think it can make our culture, our Dutch culture, much richer

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if you're connected to foreigners.

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It was very nice to a certain point.

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When they started preaching in farsi and using farsi as the tongue,

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it became very difficult because we couldn't

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trust the translations.

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The turning point was that somebody was inter-preaching,

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a guy from Afghanistan, and he changed the message.

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He changed the message into something that he liked.

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I think in some ways the church are a little bit naive

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and they are very, very energetic and eager to help people

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with the gospel and freedom from Islam.

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The danger is that you are used by people who use their baptism

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for other purposes.

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They can use their baptism to get status and then you're in real

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trouble because then the ones that really are in danger and need to be

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helped here are not going to be taken serious any more.

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It's impossible to tell how many of the new converts I've spoken

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to are genuine, but it's plain to see they've already brought great

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change to the churches they attend, and the church has had an equally

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profound impact on their lives, offering community and support

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in a new country.

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But the sheer number of people claiming they have found Jesus means

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the asylum system itself has also changed and it's now harder

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to convince the authorities that a conversion to

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Christianity is genuine.

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So for those, like Sorop, who have had their I assume claim

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rejected, all they can do now is pray for permission to start

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a new life in the Netherlands.

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Hello there.

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