Finland's Lutheran pastors petition government over deported Christian converts
More than 400 Lutheran pastors in Finland have signed a petition expressing concern over the government deporting immigrants who have converted to Christianity.
The church leaders are asking ministers to consult with clergy before expelling asylum seekers who have changed religion during their time in Finland, according to yle news.
The pastors estimate hundreds of people have converted to Christianity since arriving in the country and could face persecution, torture or death if returned to their country of origin.
One claimant, Golamir Hossaini, said: 'I haven't been in contact with my family in Afghanistan for a very long time. If they find out I've converted, it would mean trouble for me.'
Jouni Lehikoinen, pastor at St Michael's parish in Turku, said: 'The parishes have real expertise with people who have converted to Christianity from Islam or another religion.'
He pointed out authorities only carry out one interview when determining an applicant's religion and asked ministers to involve the pastor when they did so.
But he stressed the church did not convert people simply in order to help their asylum applications.
'We make it clear to asylum seekers who want to convert that furthering their application is not a reason to become a Christian,' Lehikoinen said.
Finnish evangelical parishes have begun specialist confirmation classes to cope with the high numbers of former Muslims converting to Christianity, previous reports claim.
At the Tainionkoski parish centre in Imatra, Eastern Finland, more than 20 young men are enrolled for the class with many citing a dissatisfaction or disillusionment with Islam as the reason behind their conversion.