Far from being fair and transparent, the process of considering asylum applications in Europe fails to take into account the life-stances and situation of non-believers. People holding non-theistic or atheistic beliefs encounter many difficulties when fleeing prosecutions worldwide. These difficulties can vary from deficient understandings of the risks non-believers face in their countries, to inadequate administrative questionnaires to assess claimants’ credibility.
Our German member DFW (Umbrella Association of Free Worldview Congregations) has advocated for the promotion and defence of freedom of conscience since its establishment in 1991. As part of its work, DFW accompanied Lamine Madani, student and young humanist, in his journey for freedom from Algeria to Germany. DFW’s Board Member Silvana Uhlrich-Knoll has written about us his story.
Everything started in 2012, when Lamine began his first year of university in his hometown in Algeria, where he studied English literature. The world was connected, and Facebook was making it possible to build anonymous groups that served to ask questions and post ideas that cannot be raised in public in some countries.
Young people met virtually to exchange on daily matters, about things that happened to them but they could not explain. Out of these discussion groups, a new secret group was formed under the title “Algerian free thinkers”. Initially composed of 3 founding members, it rapidly reached over 1000 members, all from Algeria. 1000 people would not feel alone anymore, as reflected in the motto “You are not alone”, one of the actions started within the group.
Had Lamine stayed in Algeria, he could have endured harder reprisals.
The group was infiltrated in 2015. Following this event, already existing problems escalated. Threatening phone calls increased, the group was under observation. For the security of the members, the group was closed down in April 2016, but risks stayed mostly for Lamine, whose real identity was exposed on Facebook, including name, pictures and phone number. Thanks to this, Humanists International (HI) learned about the case of Lamine, far above the borders of the North African world.
From Africa to Europe
It was clear that escaping Algeria would not bring the freedom that Lamine needed, or whether studying abroad could develop the knowledge and qualifications that he was looking for. But those were the only options. HI recommended Lamine to DFW in Germany, where the team of committed humanists could assist directly on spot. While Lamine was on his way to Germany, one of his friends was taken into custody for six months and was accused of blasphemy. Had Lamine stayed in Algeria, he could have endured harder reprisals, since he was the main founder of the Facebook group and therefore a key target for both Islamists and security services in the country. After his friend was released under supervision, he cut any contact with Lamine.
Lamine is a fighter, but the system leaves deep marks.
2016 was not an easy year for Lamine, who lived out of his own savings. His applications for asylum were not accepted. Moreover, his Algerian education certificates were not recognized initially. However, after objection and support by the academic office at the University of Potsdam, Lamine was admitted to study in 2017. He could finally sense the feeling of freedom, the greatness of being able to learn without punishment, to widen the horizon, to be oneself.
Building up his freedom
Freedom is tricky if everyday life does not treat you well. Money is needed to exist, so studying becomes difficult, because looking for financial resources takes most of the time and the energy. Lamine is a fighter, but the system leaves deep marks.
His objective is to go back to Algeria, but that is unfortunately still too dangerous. Lamine will have to wait.
Which chances will remain? What about the dream to become one day a teacher to encourage students to have their own and free thoughts? Lamine is committed to denounce what is happening in Algeria and make it public to the world. He wants to discuss with other people without any fear to be punished. Algeria is a modern country with functional infrastructure, but, in his opinion, the social way of life associated with the Muslim world is representative of a cultural stagnation that could date back to 1000 years ago.
Pursuing a life without fear
What does that mean to Lamine here and now? His objective is to go back to Algeria, but that is unfortunately still too dangerous. Lamine will have to wait. However, German authorities have confiscated his passport and given him three months to regularize his situation in the country. Otherwise, he will be forced to leave, without a chance of finishing his Master’s Degree. Today, Lamine keeps urgently looking for help or advice on any possible move that could allow him to stay longer in order to finish his studies with a secure and stable status.
In the meantime, he will continue his studies through his Master in English literature and aiming to pursue a PhD. Hopefully, by the time he will have completed his studies, the situation in his home country might be more open, allowing him to go back as university teacher in order to promote humanist values through education. However, he has no certainty whether his current situation is temporary or will last for life. We hope for the best.