Leaving your religion and becoming an atheist can be a difficult and even dangerous process. People who lose their faith may be rejected by their families which can mean loss of access to their spouse and children. Younger people can be made homeless and may lose their education if their families withdraw financial support.
Ex-Muslims often face additional difficulties. Bringing shame on the family can put apostates, especially females, at risk of ‘honor’ killing. Those who live in Islamic countries face even more risks. Apostasy is widely regarded as a crime in Islamic countries and is punishable in many ways, including imprisonment, flogging, and execution. Other punishments include loss of your spouse and family, loss of your job or education, loss of inheritance rights and much more,
Apart from these judicial penalties, there is a constant risk of violence from families and mobs in many Islamic countries.
Atheist Support Network
AAI has been helping atheists at risk for several years, but recently, we have seen demand grow as more people elect to leave their religion and find themselves at risk. Our response is to set up a formal program that we call The Atheist Support Network (ASN).
ASN is wholly owned and managed by AAI but we seek to work collaboratively with other organizations doing similar work. This is a huge problem that we cannot possibly solve on our own. Cooperation and collaboration will be the keys to maximizing the help we can deliver
What we do
People may think we run an ‘underground railway’ whisking at-risk atheists out of their home countries to safety. This can happen, but it is very difficult to do and it’s rare. Much more often we help atheists through the asylum process by providing advice, letters of introduction and cash to cover expenses such as medical reports, passports, and legal fees.
Some of our clients have already escaped from their home countries and are resident in refugee camps. Life in these camps can be extremely harsh, especially for atheists—there are invariably local Muslim and Christian groups who can help religious refugees with living expenses and can speak up for them to expedite the process of getting them moved out of camps and into employment and their own accommodation. Furthermore, the UNHCR officials running these camps are likely to be Muslims or Christians who invariably give low priority to atheist refugees.
In one of the biggest refugee camps in Turkey, we contribute towards the cost of employing an atheist organizer to give similar help to atheists. We need to do more of this, and we would if we had the funds available.
We have a variety of options for atheists whose lives are not in immediate danger. Often, we can make life much more bearable for them by putting them in touch with other atheists in their country. Just knowing there are others in the same situation can be a huge relief and they can work together to solve everyday practical problems.
We have contributed towards a safehouse in Nigeria and would like to do this elsewhere. We can help people move to start a new life in another city where they are not known and won’t be at risk.
Then there are cases of atheists who are imprisoned and, in some cases, have already been sentenced to death. All we can do in such cases is create publicity together with other human rights organizations to demand their sentence be commuted. It may sound overly ambitious, but there have been cases where such campaigns have been successful.
How we work
Requests for help can be received by anyone at AAI—hese are sent immediately to the ASN team. We also receive requests via the chat on our Facebook page. The ASN team monitors these requests and gives immediate advice wherever possible..
We work on a four-stage process:
- Triage—assessing as to how critical the case is and prioritizing it.
- Fact-Finding—collecting evidence in order to verify the facts.
- Support Plan—agreeing on the best way we can provide help. This can range from a simple one-step plan to a complex, multi-agency plan.
- Ongoing—keeping in touch, providing advice and resources as agreed in the plan. Sometimes, if unexpected events occur, we may need to revise the plan.
Throughout our process, confidentiality and security are top concerns.
How we could do more
Our two biggest constraints are people and money. ASN literally saves lives and makes atheists’ lives better, but it is AAI’s single most expensive program. We could help more people with more cash, it is as simple as that. Click the button below to donate. If you do, you can be sure that all the money you donate will be used for ASN and nothing else.
We also need more volunteers to help us. This program is labor-intensive. We need to respond to requests quickly, sometimes hours count, and we need to give on-going support. If you would like to help us, please email [email protected] But, be warned, there is a rigorous vetting process and you will need to work for some time in an administrative capacity until we are sure that you are ready to engage with our clients.
Finally, we need to collaborate with more organizations working in this area. The more we cooperate, the more we can do. If your organization is already active helping atheists at risk, please contact us on [email protected]
If you need help
If you are an atheist at risk or if your life is unbearable because you are an atheist, please contact us at [email protected]. Be sure that your email is secure before contacting us. Alternatively, private-message us on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AtheistAllianceInternational/
To set your expectations, we cannot guarantee to help everyone, and we will need to ask you for evidence in written form and/or video material to prove your claims.