Evangelicals build village in Paraná for Afghan Christians who fled Taliban

Evangelicals build village in Paraná for Afghan Christians who fled Taliban

Amidst the Araucaria trees in Paraná, a group of 73 Afghans lived on the night of the 24th a Christmas that was very different from the previous ones. They are almost all Christians, but this was the first time they were able to celebrate the date openly, with collective supper, music and prayer.

Persecuted for not being of the predominant religion in Afghanistan –Islamism–, they fled from the Taliban fundamentalists and are now in the outskirts of Curitiba, on the border between the cities of Colombo and Almirante Tamandaré, 25 kilometers from the capital.

“It was so special… We were among friends, we ate, we sang, we prayed together,” says attorney Golsoon, 33 [os sobrenomes dos entrevistados foram omitidos, por segurança]. “Before, we only celebrated as a family, indoors, because there is no religious freedom in Afghanistan. Being a Christian is a death sentence for us.”

Golsoon’s family is one of those rescued by a Brazilian religious group dedicated to helping persecuted Christians around the world, the Mission in Support of the Suffering Church (Mais). The 73 refugees have obtained a humanitarian visa, a document issued by Brazil to Afghans since the Taliban took power again in Kabul in August.

They are couples with children, elderly and young singles who arrived in four groups between November 25 and December 18, after months of uncertainty, bureaucratic barriers and risks during the trip.

Currently, they occupy six rooms, in addition to eight houses with kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms, built to receive them. Five more houses should open in the next few days, and another five, with three bedrooms, in January.

The village, which is at the base of Mais, was named Cidade do Refúgio and officially inaugurated with a cult on the last 18th. leaf visited the site the day before, when only ten of the 73 people had not arrived. Most were still getting used to it, but the general mood was one of relief, with children running and playing, ladies sitting on the curb watching the view, and couples cooking. Some women had their heads covered by a scarf – the custom is not only religious, but also cultural.

On the doorstep of each house, there was a paper with the surname of the resident family and the shoes of all the occupants outside, according to local custom. Public health agents applied the vaccines that were missing for each one, from Covid-19 and influenza to hepatitis and yellow fever.

The idea is for them to stay in the Cidade do Refúgio for the first four months, solving documentation and health issues and taking Portuguese classes. Afterwards, they will be directed to other cities, making room in the village for new groups who are awaiting, in Pakistan, authorization to fly to Brazil.

Mais, which lives off donations, appealed for evangelical churches across the country to “adopt” one or more families for at least a year, paying rent and other expenses and helping them get jobs. According to Luiz Renato Maia, a Presbyterian pastor who is president of the mission, there are enough interested parties for almost the entire list. Clothing donations were also plentiful, to the point that they had to stop receiving them. “It’s a cause that mobilizes, thank God,” he says.

converted Christians

Afghanistan is the second country that most persecutes Christians, behind only North Korea, according to the international NGO Open Doors, which carries out the survey annually. “It is impossible to live openly as a Christian in Afghanistan. Leaving Islam is considered shameful, and Christian converts face grave consequences if their new faith is discovered. Either they must flee or they will be killed,” the organization’s website said.

As a result, it is not known how many Afghans profess this religion. The US-based ICC (International Christian Concern) estimates them to be between 10,000 and 12,000 — a tiny share of the population of 38 million. The Office of International Religious Liberty projects non-Islamic minorities to be less than 0.3%. Virtually all are ex-Muslim converts, who need to hide this fact even from their own relatives, for fear of reprisals.

“It’s a familiar Christianity, exercised indoors. We took a group [dos acolhidos] to the city and they entered a church for the first time,” says Pastor Maia.

In September, President Jair Bolsonaro (PL) quoted in his speech to the UN General Assembly that Brazil would grant visas to “Afghan Christians, women, children and judges”. The mention of Christianity opened doubts about the imposition of some religious condition for the granting of visas, something that is not in the ordinance that regulates this document. At the time, diplomats consulted by the leaf they said this was not happening in practice.

This Wednesday (29th), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed that the treatment of the issue of visas “is in line with the national policy of humanitarian assistance and with the culture of solidarity of Brazilian society” and that “no type of discrimination based on religion is carried out “.

Mais was created in 2010 to help rebuild Haiti after the severe earthquake that left 250,000 dead. Since then, the organization has helped persecuted Christians in countries like Guinea-Bissau, Colombia and Thailand. The program to bring refugees to Brazil, created in 2013 for the most extreme cases, had so far received 240 people, from countries like Syria, Pakistan and Iraq.

One of them, Yemeni Sammy, 52, who arrived in 2016, is now a volunteer at Refuge City, helping Afghans with documentation and spiritual support. “Refugees are people who have lost everything, who come without any hope. They need support, affection. I know this feeling in depth, because I went through this,” he says.

The list of Afghans to be rescued by Mais was drawn up with the help of a Brazilian couple who lived in the Central Asian country for some years. They are people with different professions, from electricians and drivers to lawyers and administrators. The youngest is a baby who was born in Pakistan days before the trip, from a premature birth. One of the oldest is a gentleman who is translating the Bible into Dari, the Afghan language.

‘There was no time to get anything’

In the case of attorney Golsoon, religion is one of several factors that make her family a victim of persecution. Her husband was an Army soldier and she was a university professor and women’s rights activist in projects with an American NGO.

“They are looking for these people and killing them one by one,” he says. Even her 12-year-old daughter was a possible target, having performed as a singer on TV shows — something frowned upon by Taliban radicals.

The family only brought the clothes on their backs and passports. “I didn’t have time to get anything, I couldn’t stay another day there. When we arrived in Pakistan, my neighbors called us and said the Taliban had gone to look for my husband. Thank God we escaped.”

Until the last minute, they were afraid of being discovered and arrested. When they stepped into Guarulhos airport, she hugged her friend Farhanaz, who now shares the temporary house with them, along with her parents and four siblings.

“We cried together, thinking about the women who stayed there. Every woman in Afghanistan has a pain. My friends in Kabul are all indoors, unable to go out. It’s very difficult not to be able to do anything for them,” she says. “I was so stressed out by the arrival of the Taliban that I couldn’t even walk. We struggled for 20 years to have our rights and suddenly we’re back to those terrible times.”

She starts crying again when she talks about the subject and says she wants to continue in the cause of Afghan women’s rights, even if from afar. The group’s emotions are at the surface. Farhanaz’ mother is moved to tears when her daughter declaims a poem she wrote about missing her native country.

But the dominant expression is one of joy and hope. “I like to travel and I like ice cream,” says Golsoon’s daughter in Portuguese. These are the two phrases she learned on her second day in Brazil. In another house, a couple put stickers on the fridge with words in Portuguese: lettuce, meat, lamp, door.

After reciting the poem, Farhanaz shows a notebook in which he wrote about his long journey from Afghanistan to Pakistan and then on to Brazil. The 24-year-old says she wants to continue with the diary upon arrival. “My story isn’t over. It’s just beginning.”


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