Report finds 200 Christian workers and families forced to leave Turkey

June 1, 2022 by Tim Dustin in Persecution updates

According to a new report, in the last four years between 2019 and 2022, nearly 200 foreign Christian workers and their families have been forced to leave Turkey.

In that span, 78 expatriate Christian workers received deportation orders or travel bans, and the “situation has exposed a huge humanitarian problem for them, their spouses and children,” said the Association of Protestant Churches in its 2021 Human Rights Violations report. “Having someone from a family receive an unexpected entry ban breaks family unity and leaves everyone in the family facing a chaotic situation,” the report said. Many workers have been expelled on charges of being a threat to national security. 

While many churches in Turkey are led by local Christians, there is still a need for foreign workers because training of local religious staff, as well as providing religious education, is impossible under existing laws. 

The report noted that Protestant Christians in Turkey also struggle with legal registration and finding a place for their meetings. “In 2021, problems continued to be faced with regards to requests to establish a place of worship, to continue using a facility for worship, or with applications to use existing church buildings.” 

Of the 186 churches that belong to the Association of Protestant Churches, 10 meet in church buildings while the rest are forced to rent a variety of properties.  

The UN Human Rights Committee raised concerns about the deportations and lack of places of worship with the Turkish government in August last year. Meanwhile, four Christian expatriates who had been expelled from Turkey have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights.  

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A false perception 

As in many other countries, online disinformation and incitement to violence is a problem for Christians in Turkey, too. In 2021, Turkey saw an increase in “hate speech based solely on faith, as well as . . . for the purpose of provoking hate in public opinion, both written and verbal,” the report by the Association of Protestant churches outlined.  

The government uses digital platforms to “give . . . a false perception that there is a growing fundamentalist movement in Turkey, but it is the opposite,” Gokhan Ozbek, a journalist and producer of 23 Degree Independent Youtube Channel, told Al-Monitor. 

As an example, in 2018 Pastor Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor in Turkey, was accused of aiding in a failed coup attempt against Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. There was no evidence to back such an outrageous claim, but Brunson spent time in a Turkish prison regardless, until international policies and politics made his freedom possible. 

Like Brunson, average pressure on Christians in Turkey has been building in recent years, Open Doors’ researchers found. “In Turkey, Islam is totally blended with fierce nationalism,” said Michael Bosch, persecution analyst with World Watch Research. “The general distrust of Christians in society is high. In a recent worrying development, the Turkish intelligence agencies have even started to recruit informants among the Turkish protestant community.”  

Turkey, as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has signed up to provide a series of political commitments for freedom of religion and belief. And the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) guarantees the protection of non-Muslim minorities in Turkey. Despite these and other core human rights treaties the country is party to, “Turkey’s long-standing freedom of religion or belief issues remain unresolved,” the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s Freedom of Belief Initiative said in a recent report