Interview with Mina Ahadi on criticising Islam in Germany

Mina Ahadi, Chairwoman of the Council of Ex-Muslims Germany, was honored as one of five freedom heroes by the BILD newspaper in September 2019. The Atheist Refugee Relief took this opportunity to talk to Ms. Ahadi about the changed debate on Islam in Germany.

Mina Ahadi and Vitali Klitschko

Atheist Refugee Relief: Mrs. Ahadi, you were honoured this year on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the BILD newspaper together with the brothers Klitschko, Joshua Wong and Raed al-Saleh as a fighter for freedom. This is significant in so far as Islam criticism used to be defamed with the fighting term “Islamophobia”. They themselves were often put in the political right corner. What has changed?

Mina Ahadi: I think it plays a big role that there are currently big demonstrations in Iraq and Iran against political Islam. The people in the so-called Islamic countries are coveting and this is also perceived in Europe. In my own country, Iran, there have been two major demonstrations in the last ten years. The human rights organisations in Germany also noticed this, especially when women demonstrated against the headscarf obligation. If I now take action against the headscarf, it is precisely these demonstrations in the so-called Islamic countries that confirm my position. In the meantime, millions of people have understood that this is about humanism, freedom and women’s rights. Anyone who ignores or denies this supports right thinking. I cannot understand how one can accept stoning, oppression and concealment with the words that this belongs to the respective culture. That is why it is important to keep drawing attention to these fundamental violations of human rights. In short, something has changed because of the protests in the so-called Islamic world, also because many courageous women have shown their faces. That has helped us a great deal.

Atheist Refugee Relief: You fought against the mullah regime in Iran with left-wing groups, as you described in your newly published and updated book “Ich habe abgeschworen (I have sworn off)”. Your husband was executed as a communist. So it would have been possible to recognize earlier that you are not on the right political spectrum. Instead, you even had to distance yourself from the Afd with an open letter in order to make your position clear. Why did it take so long for the defamation to stop?

Mina Ahadi: I think the problem was mainly German and European politics. They have been working with the Islamic associations for a long time. The consequence was that all migrants from these countries received the label “Muslim”. The result was that human rights were no longer regarded as universal, but depended on their origin. Thus the Islamic associations were now the contact persons for integration. We said back then that this strategy was wrong. Now it shows that we had assessed the situation correctly and that there are big problems with the Muslim population groups living in Germany.

The second problem was the attitude of the elites in Europe, who placed a very strong emphasis on anti-imperialism. What they did not understand was that times have changed and that Islamism is not the alternative to imperialism, but a totalitarian ideology that oppresses its own people. An example of this is the stoning that I myself experienced in Iran. When I was in Europe, I thought that there would be an outcry if this were told. When I was at several women’s rights conferences from 1992 to 1995, I was shocked by the reactions to my appeals to put pressure on Iran to stop it. I was given to understand that as a European you cannot interfere in foreign cultures and that I should not be so emotional. I think these reactions are crazy.

Obviously there are two groups in the world. One is the rulers, who have a very personal understanding of the world, and the ordinary citizens. We have always worked successfully with NGO’s. They understand that stoning is not a cultural asset. Politicians have other interests, political or economic. I would particularly like to emphasise the parties The Left Party (Die Linke) and the Greens (Die Grünen), which have failed here, even though they should actually be campaigning for human rights. They could not see through their multicultural or post-modernist glasses what I criticised with the example of stoning. It is that this is a massive violation of human rights and women’s rights and that these human rights must be defended. And these must not be justified simply because an Islamist government is in power.

That is why we have problems with right-wing movements. They use the issue to campaign against foreigners. That is why women who have fled Saudi-Arabia, for example, have another problem. They are now confronted with hostility as foreigners in Germany. I have been living in Cologne for twenty years and this is the first time I have seen a demonstration in which openly xenophobic slogans have been called out. It was a demonstration by the Afd and it was very threatening for me. These people rush against all foreigners, no matter where they stand politically. To them I am only a foreigner. This is the climate created by the long suppression of the problems. That is why I had long since pointed out the dangers emanating from the Afd and distanced myself from its policy.

These are the three problems we have to deal with. We have to hide from Islamists, we do not get political support and we are the target of right-wing aggression.

Our aim is to pursue a sensible integration policy. For women’s rights, for LGBT rights, for children’s rights, in other words for universal human rights. Nor can it be that in Muslim circles some people call Germans dirty pigs. We are also strongly opposed to the children’s headscarf. We continue to talk about these problems with the political parties, especially the Greens and the Left Party. Because you have to recognise the problems in order to solve them. This also weakens the Afd, which is unfortunately very popular at the moment.

Atheist Refugee Relief: What would be concrete demands on the Greens and the Left Party?

Mina Ahadi: I think they have to cooperate with organisations like the Atheist Refugee Relief and the Council of Ex-Muslims Germany. Since the Council of Ex-Muslims Germany has clear political positions, they have not wanted to cooperate with us so far. The Left Party repeatedly invites representatives of Islamic organisations, but has never asked us. But I think it is very important that this party should also take a clear stand, for example on children’s headscarves. It should also work to ensure that children do not receive denominational education in schools. They should also make it clear that not all fugitives who have come to us are devout Muslims. I myself have seen in my neighbourhood what happens when integration is left to Islamic associations. There lives a family and the mother had no headscarf when they arrived here. First she wore a hijab and now she is completely veiled. I find that frightening. The Left Party and also the Greens must recognise that we are dealing here with a political Islam. And we must not stand idly by and watch the people who come to us being radicalised inside Germany.

My concrete demands are that cooperation with Islamic associations must be stopped. Instead, we should cooperate with migrant associations and representations that represent the progressive part of society and stand up for universal human rights.

Atheist Refugee Relief: Now there is a new wave of young ex-Muslims in the Arab world who demand the separation of state and religion. What distinguishes them from the former ex-Muslims, e.g. from Iran?

Mina Ahadi: I think it is because people from the so-called Islamic countries now have access to the world through their mobile phones. This allows them to inform themselves without the control of the police or secret services. Young people in Mecca, Baghdad or Tehran like the same things as people in Cologne or London. I think this new generation is particularly cosmopolitan. They are not necessarily political because many simply have a great need to enjoy their lives. If they don’t manage to escape, they meet underground and try to live a freer life there. Often people live quite different in the secret than the government pretends. These are the people who are currently taking to the streets and demonstrating in many Arab countries. I think this is a great opportunity. These young people have had enough of Hamas and Hezbollah. They no longer want to be oppressed.

Atheist Refugee Relief: Thank you for this interview.

 

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Secularists demonstrate in Iraq

A man sings a song that sounds similar to the religious chants that were also heard in IS videos. He is filming himself with his cell phone as he walks down a street in Baghdad where a demonstration had recently taken place. The demonstration was brutally suppressed. Thick smoke rises to the sky and car tires are still burning. But the man sings no religious song. He sings: “Oh world, I come to you to tell you that this is not a religious revolution, but a humanist revolution. They shot at us with guns and artillery, but the Enlightenment follows us revolutionaries.”
One of the triggers of the riots is the bad labor situation in the country. But this time, unlike in the past, according to the newspaper Al-Bayina Al-Jadida, there were no slogans or banners to be seen.  People no longer seem to follow the old religious or political groups. They seem to be looking for new ways beyond these.

The Islamic world is changing. After a long period of religious fundamentalism, the group of young people who long for a modern, enlightened society is growing. For example, in “The Arab world in seven charts: Are Arabs turning their backs on religion”, the BBC noted that atheism is spreading in the Islamic world. Atheist Refugee Relief is also experiencing a steady increase of 150% in requests from nonreligious people throughout the Islamic world in this year alone. Given this, it seems strange that so much consideration is given to religion in the integration process in Germany. Young people in the Middle East are already a lot ahead.

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Secularists demonstrate in Iraq

A man sings a song that sounds similar to the religious chants that were also heard in IS videos. He is filming himself with his cell phone as he walks down a street in Baghdad where a demonstration had recently taken place. The demonstration was brutally suppressed. Thick smoke rises to the sky and car tires are still burning. But the man sings no religious song. He sings: “Oh world, I come to you to tell you that this is not a religious revolution, but a humanist revolution. They shot at us with guns and artillery, but the Enlightenment follows us revolutionaries.”
One of the triggers of the riots is the bad labor situation in the country. But this time, unlike in the past, according to the newspaper Al-Bayina Al-Jadida, there were no slogans or banners to be seen.  People no longer seem to follow the old religious or political groups. They seem to be looking for new ways beyond these.

The Islamic world is changing. After a long period of religious fundamentalism, the group of young people who long for a modern, enlightened society is growing. For example, in “The Arab world in seven charts: Are Arabs turning their backs on religion”, the BBC noted that atheism is spreading in the Islamic world. Atheist Refugee Relief is also experiencing a steady increase of 150% in requests from nonreligious people throughout the Islamic world in this year alone. Given this, it seems strange that so much consideration is given to religion in the integration process in Germany. Young people in the Middle East are already a lot ahead.

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Violence against ex-Muslim on open street in Flensburg

Amed Sherwan (Photo: private)

Even in non-Muslim countries threats and violence against ex-Muslims are unfortunately not uncommon. A recent case from northern Germany bears witness to this.

Flensburg. The confessed ex-Muslim and secular activist Amed Sherwan just came out of a house entrance when he was hit on the head and feet from behind and was beaten and kicked lying on the floor. This incident took place in broad daylight in the presence of numerous people in the center of Flensburg. After the police and ambulance were alerted quickly, the worst could be averted.
This was preceded by an argument between the perpetrator and Sherwan two days earlier at a street festival in the idyllic port city. The perpetrator had obviously recognized Sherwan and at first only verbally attacked him. When Sherwan pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket shortly afterwards to take pictures at the party, the perpetrator again insulted Sherwan and accused him of having taken a picture of his wife. The woman spat at Sherwan and the man threatened Sherwan. Two days later he then carried out the threat. Continue reading “Violence against ex-Muslim on open street in Flensburg”

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How Islamist networks silence critical voices on Facebook

It is 13 July 2019 when Aida (name changed) calls me and says: “Facebook has blocked my page again. I don’t have access anymore”. It is now already the twentieth time that this happened to her. This time it’s about the accusation of hate speech and nudity. The entire Facebook page is now no longer accessible. Not even for her. Everything is gone. All her work, the critical discussions with the subscribers. Everything lost.

Many bloggers who are critical of Islam and the misanthropic culture in their home countries are like her. They stand up for the rights of women, homosexuals, atheists or other minorities who have to live in constant fear in this social system. They also fight for the modernisation of their home countries and the banishment of religion from public life and above all from the state.

Aida fights mainly for feminism and against religion. She displays the violence that society in Islamic countries is using against women on Facebook and has thus achieved growing popularity in the Arab community. She is part of a liberal network that discusses on Facebook how to improve the situation in the home countries. Her site was an important part of it. She had about 7000 followers and the number grew every day.

All this is now taken off the net because a post was reported as hate speech. There were also reports of nudity being displayed. Triggers were pictures of a child who was exposed to massive violence by the family. Aida had published it to point out that this child is not protected from this abuse by the Iraqi state. She herself knows the everyday nature of violence against children from her own experience. She still suffers from the consequences today. In her home country, the right of parents to their children is seen as more important than the rights of children. Aida mainly blames religion for this.

What followed this post was something all too familiar to all critical bloggers. There follows a wave of reports to Facebook. These described her post as “hate speech”, “inciting the people” or “immorality (Nudity)”. When a certain amount of reports are made, the facebook page is automatically blocked. This method is very effective. Even well-known sites like Atheist Republic have been exposed to such actions.

But who is behind these Islamist networks?

Islamist net activist Abdullah A.

It’s mostly Islamists like in this case Abdullah A., who is supposed to work for the Iraqi embassy in India, who incite these reports. He has 21.000 followers on Facebook and has therefore a big influence. The 20-year-old talks openly about “his army”. He called through this channel to block the side of Aida. What followed were over 600 reports to Facebook – the site was completely blocked because complaints about other posts had already been received before. When the page was off the net, you could see on Mr. A.’s page how they congratulated each other that another critic was silenced.

This story happens every day with many critics. It is an unequal struggle. Because when Aida had received threats over Facebook and she reported them, she got as a reply that it wouldn’t violate the Facebook guidelines. Maybe it was only because she submitted the complaint on her own and could not activate an “army”.

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Social work free of religion – collaboration with the Brighter Brains Institute

We are excited to announce our collaboration with the Brighter Brains Institute! More and more secular organizations are recognizing the need to make a contribution to the accomplishment of social tasks through humanitarian commitment. Because it is a problem that the emergency in certain regions of the world is used to spread religious dogma.

Clinic for Disease Prevention

A particularly impressive example of this work is the “Humanists Global” project by the Brighter Brains Institute in San Francisco, USA. They provide concrete help in the form of microcredits, donations in kind and medical aid in many Asian and African countries. “Humanists Global” has even founded four humanist-oriented kindergartens and two schools. There is also cooperation with other atheistic organisations for the construction of hospitals.

The aim of all these efforts, apart from helping to alleviate acute need, is to counteract the devastating effects of religious practices in the regions. We of the Atheist Refugee Relief consider this work very important in order to improve the lives of the people in these countries. But financial aid connot be  as important as opening the mind to rational thinking and humanistic values of tolerance.

All the more we are very happy that “Humanists Global” will cooperate with the Atheist Refugee Relief to improve the situation of people who are free of faith.

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Atheist Refugee Relief speaks in EU Parliament

On 20.06.2019 the European Humanist Federation invited the Atheist Refugee Relief to the EU Parliament to a meeting with the headline “Are you a true humanist”. Together with two other humanistic organisations (humanism.org.uk and humanistischverbond.nl) we were able to point out the special situation of non-religious refugees. Representatives of the Dutch government and the European EASO were also present.

The Atheist Refugee Relief described the special situation of atheists with a muslim background seeking asylum in Germany. Stefan Paintner illustrated by examples the methods how critics in Europe are silenced very effectively, like the shadowing of Saudi refugees by Saudi authorities or the activities of islamic shiite militia (e.g. the biker gang “Al Salam 313”, which was recently brought into focus by the police with a large-scale raid). Only very few people dared to speak under these circumstances and they needed special protection.

Furthermore, he also made concrete demands regarding the procedure. For example, a trusted person of the refugee should be allowed to be present during the asylum interview in order to check the correct communication of what has been said. It had often been the case that essential contents of the asylum interviews had not been translated correctly or left out completely. Furthermore, the residence restriction imposed on non-religious asylum seekers in Germany should be dropped completely, as this would greatly increase the safety of those affected.

 

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It’s like taking off a very old and dusty mask – leaving Islam in Yemen

More and more people in the Islamic world are leaving their religion. Many do this in silence, but some write about it. A particularly fascinating example is the blog of a young woman from Yemen. It takes a lot of courage from this conservative country, which has also been at war for almost four years, to express criticism of Islam.

We have succeeded in making contact with this extraordinarily courageous woman. We were interested in who was behind this Facebook page. However, when we questioned her, we were anxious to preserve her identity and did not ask any personal questions.

 

You live as a young woman in Yemen. What is the situation for women there and how has it changed in recent years?

The situation for women here is absolutely terrible, and has become even worse in recent years. Yemen has become very unsafe specifically for women. There are now more than ever, abductions and rape cases, followed by honor killings. Many women choose not to speak up for themselves in fear of mistreatment, embarrassment and judgment by the people around them, because this brings shame to their families. Women are forced into marriages that they do not want and make them unhappy. People here believe that marriage is the most important goal that women can reach, and that it is more important than education. Some families don’t even allow their daughters to go to schools. Child marriages happen in parts of the country. I have personally known and seen young girls who were married to old men, some of them were my classmates in elementary school. I have read online that child marriage has even been on the rise in recent years because of the war, as families sell their daughters into marriage for money because they are poor.

What would you wish for your country?

First of all, for the war to stop, since it is causing so much suffering. Secondly, to witness the day when my people start accepting the idea that change is not bad and that breaking habits and traditions sometimes has its own advantages. Everyone knows that Yemen is facing a war at the moment but how many of them know something other than that? Yemen has a very important history and unique culture but instead of repeating the same historical events, we need to finally let go of those bad habits and traditions and stick to the good ones. We’re already in 2019 but people are still living in the past till this day and to be honest, it makes me quite sad.

You are no longer religious. Why do you no longer believe in Islam? And since when?

I might not have been a strict Muslim, but I believed that Islam was perfection at its finest and that there weren’t any flaws and holes in it for anyone to criticize. However, ever since I was a kid, I’d still feel guilty for not following what my religion has taught me, in fear of burning in hell forever. I remember one time I took off my hijab for the first time in my school’s bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and started checking myself out but couldn’t fathom why I still felt super guilty about it and scared of anyone suddenly knocking on the door at the same time. So I started reading more and more and meeting different people online and getting mixed feelings from them about Islam until one day, I had a wakeup call and realized some things. For example, a few questions popped up in my head such as,”Why would people hate Islam if it were a peaceful religion?” and why would Allah punish me for not following his rules? Why does this Allah care more about women’s hair and bodies and why do people kill in the name of this God? Is he even out there and if it’s true, why is he going to burn those who don’t believe in him? I started finding many flaws in what’s supposed to be the “One and Only God” out there as Muslims say, so I stopped praying to him. I wouldn’t deal with such unforgiving, angry and narcissistic humans, so why would I worship a God with those traits?

»I no longer see black and white, my insides are full of beautiful colors now.«

How has life changed for you in Yemen since you left Islam?

Mentally, a lot. I felt like I was reborn in the same exact place. It’s like taking off a very old and dusty mask I’ve been forced to wear for years. Although I’m still forced to wear the burka, the woman behind it is no longer the same woman as before. I no longer see black and white, my insides are full of beautiful colors now.

It is very dangerous to leave Islam. Articles 12 and 259 of Yemen’s penal code provide for the death penalty for apostasy. How do you deal with it? Can you hide the fact that you are no longer a Muslim?

Like many other Ex-Muslims, I have no choice but to hide my identity and be careful of revealing any details that may cost me my life. There was a period of my life when I felt extremely lonely and depressed that I didn’t even care about anything anymore, so I would post my pictures on social media platforms and stop praying at home and that wasn’t smart of me, to be honest. But like I said, I simply didn’t care whether I was alive or dead the next day. But as people whom I met online were on my side and assured me that I wasn’t alone, I’ve decided to be more careful and think about every move I make because one wrong move and it’s the end for me.

Is there not a great danger that your family will find out that you are no longer a believer?

My family knows that I’m different from other typical Yemeni girls who are supposed to behave good and be very religious. But none of them know that I no longer do my daily prayers, that I have left Islam and that a couple of internet friends have seen photos of me. The males in my family are very controlling of us women and if they ever find out about this then I’ll be in huge danger, at great risk of punishment for my apostasy and possibly at risk of honor killing. My sister is also no longer religious. Thankfully, her and I are very close so we’ve always got each other’s back.

You run a Facebook page that is critical of religion and about freedom, especially for women. Why do you take such a risk to be discovered?

Most people in my society were forced to believe in something they had little choice in. I want my people specifically to open up their hearts to new things and ideas from another Yemeni and for them to think outside the box. My page is like an open door for anyone who seeks answers outside the context of religions and wants to know what it’s like being a free thinker.

What would happen if your family found out that you were running this Facebook page?

Absolutely horrible and unfair things would await me. This includes me being physically beaten, emotionally and mentally abused, as well as arranging marriage for me without my consent. Because as people in my society always say, a woman cannot be set free or else she’ll end up doing sinful things and that’s why she needs a man in her life to control her. Even just thinking about what would await me is terrifying.

What do you personally want for your life?

I want to know and feel what it’s like being in a healthy and safe environment and I want to help others in need of help and support. I want to be able to speak up for myself without fearing the consequences. I also want other people to know that Yemen is more than just the war that you hear about on the news and to share information about the lives of ordinary women here. There are individuals like me who want to make a change and do better for our society. I’m not by any means religious but I want to send a message that Yemen should be for everyone; religious or not, Muslims, Jews or Christians and that if we can all live together and accept our differences, we can rise again.

Thank you so much for your time. I wish you all the best and that all your wishes will come true one day.

 

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Shiite Islamists threaten human rights activist in Germany

Islamist terrorism has dominated the headlines in the European media for many years. The attacks in the Bataclan, in Brussels, at Charlie Hebdo, to name but a few. They show the cruel face of religious extremism. All these attacks were committed by Sunni Muslims, who were incited on the Internet by the ideas of the Islamic State, or in mosques by corresponding sermons. What is forgotten here is that the same extremism also exists on the part of Shiite Muslims. We remember the death fatwa which was pronounced against the British author Salman Rushdie in 1989. Even the well-known musician Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) supported these threats. Rushdie had to go into hiding for many years. After the attack of the USA on Iraq a Shiite militia has formed there, which represents similar extreme views as the Sunni IS. Only the strategy they are pursuing is different.

Worood Zuhair

I meet the well-known atheistic blogger Worood Zuhair in a café in a German city. She had contacted me because the death threats against her became more and more intense. We, the Atheist Refugee Relief, have been accompanying the young woman since her arrival in Germany. She comes from Karbala in Iraq, the holy city of the Shiites. There she had already turned away from Islam after realizing that all the atrocities committed by the Islamic State in the name of Islam were also committed by the Prophet Mohammed. This led to even greater tensions within her family, so that one day she was beaten up  by her own brother into an incomplete spinal paralysis. In 2015 she fled via Turkey to Europe. Since then, she has been campaigning on the Internet for women’s rights, especially in Iraq. She blames Islam, which is cementing patriarchal structures and justifying injustices, for the backwardness of her region.

Zuhair shows me her WhatsApp messages she had received lately. It’s a flood of insults. They are predominantly sexually degrading and extremely misogynistic. What is striking about this news is that there is repeated reference to a man named Mohammed Mandalawi, nickname Bunea. Quote: “I will tell my friend Mohammed Bunea, who is in Germany, to kick you in your rotten c***”.

 

Mohammed Mandalawi

Mohammed Mandalawi is the leader of the newly founded rocker gang “Al-Salam 313” in Essen, Germany. The 313 refers to the 313 companions of Iman Al-Mahdi. The logo of the rocker gang is a white dove. This is also the symbol of the paramilitary unit “Jaish al-Mahdi”, which is said to have provided death squads in Iraq. The “Jaish al-Mahdi”, or “peace brigades”, are under the control of the influential spiritual politician Al-Sadr. They have military training and were involved in the attacks against ISIS in Mossul. When one of Al-Sadr’s representatives, Muhammed Talakani, visited Germany, Mohammed Mandalawi had himself photographed with him several times at private joint activities.

Mohammed Mandalawi with Muhammed Talakani

Worood Zuhair says “Muhammed Talakani is a religious agitator. Shortly after he spoke about the sinful behavior of Iraqi blogger Tara Fares in a public speech, she was shot.” Zuhair now finds herself confronted here in Germany with the same groups she fled from back in Iraq. Groups that know only one answer to criticism of Islam. Those who reject Western culture. She now fears that there will be a similar retaliation against her as there was against Tara Fares.

Zuhair’s fears are entirely justified. On the one side, a young woman who has only the word and fights on the Internet for more freedom and against the deprivation of women’s rights in Islamic culture. On the other side, an armed militia, linked in politics, highly armed and trained militarily.

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Another attack on ex-Muslim atheist

Rany E. shortly after the attack

Early Sunday afternoon, 28.04.2019, frightened Rany E. entered the ambulance in Bremerhaven. In addition to wounds on his upper arm, he also had a strongly swollen ankle joint, so that he could only move with a limp. He was attacked with an iron rod. This was only one of the last cases of attacks against atheistic ex-Muslims in German camps.

People whom we support in Germany are repeatedly attacked by other fellow refugees. Thus only last week a mother of four children was beaten by other residents because she ate a sausage with pork meat. Also in the past we received reports from men who were burned or whose mobile phones were destroyed. These are just the highlights of the martyrdom of harassment and abuse to which these people are subjected on a daily basis.

Women are often seen as sexual prey. Apart from the day-to-day harassment that women have to resist, we have also often been told of sexual assaults in the camps.

Rany E. says he is very worried whether he is safe in Germany. He has fled from the very people with whom he has to live here. The Atheist Refugee Relief demands that atheistic ex-Muslims be accommodated with non-Muslims. They are not safe in a normal camp – especially not in the now beginning Ramadan.

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