LESBOS, Greece (RNS) — When Muslim refugees arrive on this Greek island, it is more common for them to take selfies than to drop to their knees and pray, say refugee camp volunteers.
And recently, at Lesbos Solidarity-Pikpa, one of the three main camps on the island, a few talked about the suspicions they’ve encountered about their religious motivations — suspicions they say are unfounded.
A Syrian man, who gave his name as Murad, said: “Everybody says refugees are terrorists. Believe me, the terrorists stayed in their countries. They are fighting now, they are making business, they are living. But we are dying every day. If every refugee was a terrorist, would (the refugee camp) still be in one piece?”
Lesbos is just a few miles from Turkey and has been major gateway for Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans headed to the European Union. Although the flow has slowed to a trickle since a deal between Brussels and Ankara cut off the route last year, more than 3,000 people languish in the camps, waiting to be processed.
For Muslims who wish to pray, the facilities at the camps are modest at best, usually tents set up as makeshift mosques. There are no imams.
But what the refugees do sometimes find are Christian groups that come to proselytize, said volunteer Philippa Kempson, who moved to Lesbos 17 years ago from England and makes jewelry for a living.
“We had groups sending in aid and hiding Bibles in amongst the women’s products, so they’d be handed out with them. They were getting us to hand out their propaganda. And there were religious messages written on the backs of things — it was incredible,” she said.
It was not possible to verify that account. But Greece has restrictions on proselytizing – especially to win converts for faiths other than Greek Orthodox Christianity. At a worship session next to a pile of discarded refugee life jackets, volunteers from the international Christian volunteer group Youth With a Mission seemed to be aware of the limits.
“My mission in life is to bring hope to the hopeless through relationship,” said a young woman from New Zealand. “And that’s exactly what we did volunteering in camp Moria. We weren’t able to go and tell them who Jesus is, but we could be the example of who Jesus is.”
(Jenn Lindsay is a freelance documentary filmmaker based in Rome and a doctoral candidate in religious studies at Boston University)