Members of the Iranian Christian community in Zagreb, Croatia. (Photo provided by Croatian Baptist Aid)
A group of 30 Iranian refugees have been established in the first organized Iranian Christian Community (HAMGAM) in Zagreb, Croatia.
The congregation was formed under the leadership of Croatian Baptist Aid in Zagreb and Malesnica Baptist Church and its minister, Mihal Kreko, and with help of the visiting pastor, Reza Ansari from Vienna, Austria.
The Iranian Christian Community in Zagreb conducts all its weekly church services, Bible classes and prayer meetings in the Farsi language.
Under the leadership of Croatian Baptist Union and Baptist Church of Zagreb, Malesnica, with the Iranian Christian Community in Zagreb, has embraced a group of Iranian refugees in Croatia, who are at this time waiting to have their asylum requests approved by the Croatian government.
All of them left Iran due to the life-threatening religious persecution directed against the Iranian citizens who left Islam and embraced the Christian faith.
They all became Christians, or sympathizers of the Christian faith by their own decision, many of them before they left Iran.
Iran is a signatory member to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which obliges the Iranian government to guarantee its citizens the full scope of "freedom of thought, conscience and religion," including "freedom to change one's religion or belief" (article 18).
However, the Iranian government punishes Christian converts with persecution, social and religious ostracizing, severe prison sentencing and torture, and frequently sentencing them to death.
Although the Iranian government claims that it has granted freedom of religion to its citizens, numerous international documents, released by a number of religious freedom and human rights agencies, claim otherwise.
They prove that serious and life-threatening forms of persecution follow all discovered or suspected converts to Christianity.
"Croatian Constitution and the Croatian laws are among the most democratic legislations in Europe, and as such they are fully qualified to respond affirmatively to all requests for international protection, including those made on the ground of religious persecution," says Mihal Kreko, the pastor whose local Baptist church has become a spiritual home to the Iranian refugees in Zagreb.
He added, "My church community empathizes with all refugees who are seeking help from Croatia at this time regardless of the religious identity of the asylum applicants. However, we recognize that the Iranian refugees who have embraced the Christian faith are in the unique situation to be misunderstood by the Croatian authorities and disqualified as legitimate asylum seekers."
"Should this happen, their lives would certainly be put in serious jeopardy," Kreko continued. "We hope, pray and are doing whatever is in our power to see that no one in our Iranian Christian community is sent back to what would amount to certain persecution, even death sentencing for most of them."
In addition to providing a spiritual sanctuary for the Iranian refugees in Croatia, the Zagreb Malesnica Baptist Church is offering the refugees various means of practical assistance.
They include social help, humanitarian care, and legal and integrational assistance in the forms of the Croatian language and cultural integration classes.
Also, members of the church are readily opening their homes to refugees; by doing so, they are surrounding them with so much needed warmth and friendship.
Moreover, Croatian Baptist Aid provides additional support to the refugees in the care of the Zagreb Malesnica Baptist Church.
Today, 200 HAMGAM Iranian Christian worshiping communities exist across Europe.
Tihomir Kukolja is executive director of the Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation (FLR) and director or Renewing Our Minds (ROM). He has worked as a church pastor, media professional, radio producer and presenter, journalist, religious liberty activist, and reconciliation and leadership development activist. A version of this article first appeared on the website of the Baptist Union of Croatia. It has been translated into English and is used with permission.