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Sweden draws criticism for giving religious tests to Christian asylum seekers

(Reuters/Claus Fisker/Scanpix Denmark)Migrants, mainly from Syria, prepare to board a train headed for Sweden, at Padborg station in southern Denmark September 10, 2015.

Sweden's Migration Agency has been criticized for testing Christian asylum seekers about their knowledge of Christianity and the Bible to determine their eligibility for refugee status.

The agency has stated that the tests were designed to determine whether those who are seeking asylum from religious persecution are genuine. The refugees were asked technical questions about Christianity, such as the number of parts in the New Testament and the difference between the Orthodox and the Protestant Church, according to The Local.

Lawyers and religious figures have condemned the practice, saying it only tests technical knowledge of Christianity rather than a person's faith.

"I think it's terrible. I have repeatedly had to interrupt administrators who ask these questions because they are not relevant and are far too complicated," said lawyer Serpil Güngör.

However, Carl Bexelius, deputy legal director at the Swedish Migration Agency, argued that the religious test was reasonable.

"It is a reasonable demand that the asylum applicant should show some knowledge of the Bible – this should come naturally, and isn't something you need to study," he said.

Güngör said that he has advised his clients to study the Bible prior to their interview, and some Swedish parishes have prepared a handbook of facts to help asylum seekers with the tests.

The Migration Agency has contended that the religious quiz only forms a part of the overall assessment. The agency said that other factors such as the applicant's explanation for their conversion to Christianity and how they practice their faith are also taken into account.

Denying that the quizzes were too technical, Bexelius said: "Quite often the issue of religion is linked to your personality. It can be difficult to articulate that belief."

He also noted that he tried to ask questions about how asylum seekers look at religion. "What is the meaning of religion to you," he said. "What is the nexus of your previous faith [for example] Islamic faith compared to Christianity? What in the Christian faith is important to you?" he added.

According to the Swedish Migration Agency, the Scandinavian country has received over 260,000 asylum applications since 2014. About 7,272 people, including 2,562 children, have claimed asylum in Sweden in 2017.

Last year, a record number of 4,542 asylum seekers have withdrawn their applications and left the country. The withdrawals were reportedly caused by a combination of long processing times, strict rules on family reunion, and difficulty in procuring secure employment and pay-outs to migrants.

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