Questioning Religious Identity: An Exploration of Refugee Assimilation Techniques in Exile

Note : The photos used here for this blog post are from web.


Human Cargo: A journey among Refugees (2005)  written by Caroline Moorehead enlightens the readers about the refugee crisis and the struggles as well as the horrendous tortures that refugees face due to the title of the “refugee”

According to the UN definition, “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.” Moorehead had explicitly described the pain of exile and tortures that the refugees face during the war which leads them being dismembered mentally. Usually they are the victims of several mental disorders and Moorhead has briefly yet explicitly given examples of individuals in her book, thereby making the reader identify with the inhuman tortures and the feeling of ‘lost’ that they feel during exile. They do not know where to go as they do not seem to belong anywhere wcoexistencehich further makes them embark on the ideology of Assimilation.

In this light, there is a growing and an increasing number of converts to Christianity among the refugees that are welcomed in the European countries. This paper explores the complexities surrounding the crisis of identity that the refugees face, especially the religious identity. This can be taken as one of the many assimilation techniques that the refugees are using in order to identify themselves with the country that they are welcomed in.

Keywords: Refugee, religious-identity and Assimilation

Questioning Religious Identity: An Exploration of Refugee Assimilation Techniques in Exile


Caroline Moorehead is the daughter of a former war correspondent named Alan Moorehead and is also a very active human rights activist. She is a graduate from the University of London and has also written works related to history, mainly autobiographical collections of letters in the Napoleon’s reign during the French Revolution. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1993 and was appointed an OBE in 2005 for services to literature.

Her most recent work is on the Refugees of the modern day world encompassed in the book titled Human Cargo – A journey among the refugees (2005).

 In addition, she has also written works such as Hostages to Fortune (1980) regarding her concerns related to the subject of Terrorism. Her book, Human Cargo: A journey among Refugees was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award. It also covered the story of the refugees in explicit detail and provoked emotions among the readers as well as it “gripp[ed] the reader’s attention and haunt their dreams.” (Daily Telegraph, n.d., 2004)caroline-moorehead

Moreoever, This book is an untold story of several people. They recollected their painful memories of exile and torture that they felt as refugees. There is a clear subdivision between their life before, in and after exile. These people have told their tragedy to Moorehead through her journey of two years across four continents and the words of the book itself “illuminates the suffering endured by refugees” (Booklist,n.d , 2004). Through the words of Moorehead, this book has elicited empathy and an uproar of the humanistic feeling among readers.


Moorehead addresses the issue of homelessness and an identity crisis along with other atrocities that are faced by the refugees in her book Human Cargo. Each refugee had a different story to tell to Moorehead regarding their homeland and their status as a refugee in Exile. They have also discussed the memories that they have of their family. Some of these memories were the moments that they witnessed of one of their family members being shot. This has triggered and caused several kinds of mental disorders among them.

To support this, Moorehead describes the post-traumatic stress disorder that is faced by the refugees’ right after they have settled elsewhere abroad with their lives. There is a questioning of identity and they do not know where they belong. They are haunted by the visions of terror in their memories. Most of them refuse to acknowledge or discuss about their past events with their survivng family members that are communicating with them. An example of is the story of Abdu and his mother. They both refuse to question about what had happened in the past.

In contrast, the other chapters of the book such as,“The corridors of memory” and “The Illness of Exile” discuss about the displacement and the identity crisis of refugees.  Although the refugees fail to acknowledge themselves with the country that has provided them with shelter; they refuse to give up their homeland. Nevertheless, they have their immediate families in countries that aren’t their native homeland and are noted to take up a homeland that has provided them with solace and shelter. But the question of displacement and identity still remains just as was noted with Ghazi, a Palestinian man who felt a sense of belonging in Lebanon during his exile but ultimately, he realizes and states, “We are not Lebanese. We are strangers here. I cannot change.” (Moorhead,p.249,2005).

Despite this frustration of assimilation of identity, there is still an acceptance of the assimilation.  This is noted in Tariq’s story where he openly admits that he is okay with his daughters marrying white men. This is clearly illustrated when he states, “…I can accept that they may marry English boys.” (Moorehead, p.240, 2005).  Notice that this acceptance of the white culture can be correlated to the growing coverts of Muslims to Christianity in European Countries. Moreover,  Hubaishi , a Palestinian human-rights activist also supports the idea of assimilation by stating, “If they are given no chance to improve their lives, who can blame them for talking of a homeland? They feel…unwanted. They [will] think: at least that isn’t home, home is somewhere better…where I will be wanted” (p.255, 2004).  

Additionally, exile in itself has created and caused havoc among the lives of refugees where refugees had faced inhuman torture by the prison guards. To support this qualm, Moorehead gives the example of Mrs.M whose identity is revealed in the book. She is from Hutu and was constantly raped by the rebels that had overtaken her village. Her family was killed in front of her eyes. Also, Tariq is forced from Lebanon and also has trouble while returning back from Lebanon. “Tariq fled to Lebanese friends at the other end of Beirut, only to be turned away…[but] Tariq escaped and was hidden by American friends in the city.” (Moorehead,p.237) His ‘american friends’ had intervened and helped him in his escape. All of these events has made them feel like their “life had been fractured…[and] [they] would not have the courage to start over.” (p.262, 2005) This can be correlated to the current situation of the refugee crisis as well, where they are actively turning away from Islam because just like Tariq, they are not getting any kind of asylum from the muslims of the neighboring countries. The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, lashed out at them on Twitter, captioning the photo of an overloaded migrant vessel with: “Guess how many of these Syrian refugees Saudi Arabia & other Gulf states offered to take? Zero.” (2015,n.a.)

These horrors that Moorehead describes in her book in various chapters – related to the feelings of refugees has indeed paved the way of refugee to leave the past behind. Tariq’s daughter, Hanan feels, ‘Palestinian but England [was] [her] home.’ (p.266,2005). The above example of Hanan illustrates that refugees have taken up new identities in the countries that have given them asylum. Another example that Moorehead points out in her book is Josephine Klein , a Polish Jew who later identifies herself as British. She states that England had given her a home and an education to thrive on which led to be a successful Psychotherapist. This was basically an assimilation technique that Klein used in order to identify herself with the country that provided her with shelter. This is also noted with Mohamed, an Afghani-American man that was born and bred in Manhattan couldn’t also recognize his own homeland when he stepped into his homeland the first time. This is evident when he states, “This is not really my place, you know. I don’t belong here.” (p.308, 2005).

The Refugee Dilemma

The fact that Mohamed has “a strong American accent” (p.308, 2005.) itself denotes his submission to the assimilation with the ways of an American. He identifies himself more as an American rather than as an Afghan. Thus these examples as stated as above are some of the several assimilation techniques that Moorehead states in relation to refugees.


The different assimilation techniques that are described by Moorehead through the events transpired in a refugees life is illustrated in her book. This is done so that her readers empathize with them as she synergizes the difficulties that are faced by the refugees and the question of their identity due to the displacement. This also begets the question whether it is really necessary to diminish their former identity in order to attain asylum in other countries.  

To support this qualm, there is also an emerging rise of the converts to Christianity among the current Syrian refugee in Germany as well. There are several speculations surrounding this growing conversion such as the fear of ISIS as well. This raises the question whether it is really necessary for the refugees to go through this process of assimilation in foreign countries or whether it is due to the terror that they faced in their homeland that they ultimately decide to adopt the ways and the main religion of the foreign land that welcomes them

Literature Review

Several sources have scrutinized Moorehead’s book in relation to the ideology of witness literature that Moorehead uses intricately. Among them is Mike Phillips who wrote in The Guardian regarding his review for the book on Human Cargo. He briefly describes and states how “Moorehead’s account of her travels… explores the context which serves as the cruel backdrop to the camps in west Africa and the Middle East…[that] [describes] the increasing callousness of government policies all over the world.”(2012) Interestingly this denotes the power that Moorehead’s literature has had among the masses that have read the book.

Moreover, the migrant-refugee problem is also brought to light through Phil Baker that writes for The guardian stating that Moorehead “searched at ground level around the world …[and] [made]  a harrowing study of the seemingly intractable migrant and refugee problem” (2006). Thus, it is clear that refugee-migrant problem that Moorehead discusses throughout the book is not a fictitious scenario but rather it is a growing and an emerging concern where refugees are forced to flee and are possibly by circumstances to assimilate with the country that welcomes them.

But at the same time, Moorehead also states that the foreign countries could just help in the “speeding up and improving of the asylum process, to the spreading of more accurate and realistic information about true conditions in the West and the dangers and pitfalls that await immigrants, to the setting up of regular programs so that people can travel legitimately and not take the asylum route. But none can ever achieve enough, unless the root causes poverty, violence, and instability that send people abroad in the first place are addressed.” (p.330, 2004). Assimilation of the refugees might be forced or might not be forced – one doesn’t really know the truth behind the assimilation techniques that are used by refugees. This paper explores whether assimilation technique is used in order to attain a better health care and attention by the foreign nationals or is it because they are truly grateful for the country as noted in the case of Tariq and Josephine Klein’s story.

The truth over here seems very subjective and Moorehead briefly foreshadows this scenario through the purposeful question that she poses to foreign authority that take refugees in. Response

Regarding Moorhead’s book which involves her journey with the refugees and as to whether the refugees are assimilating with the people of the foreign land out of pressure or loneliness in a different land, one can take note on the real-life incidents that are taking place currently through the refugees. For instance, Syrian refugees that are being displaced due to the civil war that’s occurring within their country, Syrians are “not likely to go home.” (Kiriski,K, Ferris, E. , 2015.) For example, the ongoing civil war in Syria can be taken as a war amongst the muslims due to the different school of thoughts.

The war itself is identified as an “intensely sectarian conflict.”( Potter, L., 2014). The raging battle between the Syrians is amongst the minority Alawaite government that are Shiite muslims that are backed up by Shitte goverments of other countries such as Iran and the majority of Sunni muslims in Syria. (Potter, L.,2014). This immediately also foreshadows the fact that perhaps due to the enough dangers and atrocities that one as a refugee have faced back in their homeland especially as Muslims, they may whole-heartedly accept assimilation. “Khalid, 28, a fighter near Yarmouk, insisted that despite the shelling, the rebels still controlled the streets and operated underground in Damascus.‘I don’t want anything,’ he said, holding his Kalashnikov rifle. ‘I just want to see Bashar dead with his family, who killed thousands of our people.’” (KirkPatrick, D., 2012).

The growing anger and hatred against their own government signifies the unrest and the tension among the Syrians that can operate as an underlying factor for their conversion to another faith.  Interestingly, there is a lot of speculation surrounding the Gulf countries as well that are just stating, “that millions of Syrians have been allowed to enter their countries since the country’s civil war began.” (n.d, n.a) 

On the contrary, they have not helped the Syrian refugees a lot like the other western countries such as Germany. “The focus of the criticisms has been on the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE). The international community has questioned the GCC countries’ contribution to resolving the Syrian refugee crisis in countless social media posts and discussions. According to a 2014 report entitled ‘Left out in the Cold’ by human rights organization Amnesty International, the GCC had not officially resettled a single Syrian refugee since the crisis began in 2011.” (Khazaal,C., 2016).

It is safe now to assume as to why refugees are converting to Christianity in the western countries. If the Arab countries are not intervening to help the refugees in crisis then where will they turn to asylum? The western countries such as Germany would be the answer and it would be safe to assume as to why the refugees would readily assimilate with the country that has taken them in. Bitterness, exploitation and to be turned away from help would be a major factor for refugees to turn away from Islam completely. “Yet, as debate rages between politicians in Europe over how many they should take, nearby super-wealthy Gulf nations of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain have refused to offer sanctuary to a single Syrian refugee.” (Akbar, J., 2015).

It is also incredulous to note that the same Arabs that have turned away from help are now trying to help the Muslims keep their faith instead in Germany as they are aware of this growing conversion of Muslims into Christianity. For example Saudi Arabia has offered to build mosques in Germany but the fact remains, they did not provided asylum to refugees when it was needed.   “The Saudis may be wanting to undercut this development and offer the potential refugees places of worship.”  (Qazi,W., 2015).  

Despite their futile attempts of preventing the refugees from converting to Christianity, there is still a growing rise of converts to Christianity. If countries like Saudi Arabia were very concerned with the growing converts to Christianity then they could have taken in the refugees or atleast, “could have offered to fund the expenses accruing to European states in housing, clothing and feeding the refugees. Now this would have been prudent, not have jarred with European sensibilities and not provoked a reaction from European societies. Last but not the least; this may have corresponded to the real spirit of Islam.” (Qazi,W.,2015).

Furthermore, there are several commandments in Islam that raises also red flags among the thoughts of Muslims as well. For example, Sahih Bukhari, an authentic hadith source that is followed by Muslim states, “Allah’s Apostle said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.” (Sahih Bukhari, 9:83:17).

This is widely practiced by Muslims and one such example is Sofia ‘who left the Muslim faith for Christianity [and] the response from her family was one of persecution and threats.’ Her story was widely covered by correspondent Alisdair Palmer from the Telegraph.

“Sofia Allam simply could not believe it. Her kind, loving father was sitting in front of her threatening to kill her. He said she had brought shame and humiliation on him, that she was now ‘worse than the muck on their shoes’ and she deserved to die’” (Palmer,A., 2007). 

To support this, One such example is a recently converted Muslim man whose identity was not revealed reportedly stated, “I’ve been spat on, told that I’ve betrayed Islam. But through what I’ve learned, I can forgive them,” . He was recently baptized in Hamburg, Germany and identified Christianity with peace. Moreover, he was happy with the conversion. Another refugee named Solmaz, who is ethnically Iranian stated, “In Islam, we always lived in fear. Fear God, fear of sin, fear of punishment. However, Christ is a God of love,” This further intensifies the question regarding the safety of Muslim in Islam. For instance, many Muslims are also converting to Christianity after witnessing the events and the horrors created by the ISIS group – a terrorist organization that identify themselves with the religion of Islam.isis.jpg

In reality, any individual would shun away from their homeland if the primary source of attack was due to a civil war where individuals were bombed due to religious reasons or weren’t given the freedom of speech or liberty to do what they want to do in the grounds of religion. “Groups of Muslims who have witnessed the Islamic State’s crimes in Iraq and Syria, are turning away from Islam and instead towards Christianity”,   Dutch theologian Iben Thranholm stated who also happens to be Denmark’s most widely read columnist that discusses the qualms regarding “the political and social events with focus on their religious aspects, significance and moral implications.” (n.d,n.a)

Also, the fact that they are not even helped by their fellow Muslims creates a bitter turmoil among the refugees that further makes them vow to stay away from Islam as was noted by the example of the wealthy Arab countries that haven’t intervened or taken refugees into their country.

 Additionally, Islamic oppressors that colonize the land of the people, happens to be one of the main reasons as to why refugees turn away from their religious identity and assimilate a new identity for themselves in the countries that accept them. One such case is the case of the Muslims in Pakistan that are converting to Christianity because of the Islamic laws established in Pakistan, This is evident through the article based upon the Pakistanis that states, “The vast majority are believed to be former Muslims, although increasing members of the Ahmadi Muslim Sect are coming to Britain in order to flee persecution in Pakistan.” (Yorke,H, 2016).

Moreoever, it is interesting to note that it is mainly the Pakistani Muslims that forcefully convert the Christians in Pakistan to Islam.

 To support this, the Human rights commission of Pakistan has stated that “In 2003 a six-year-old Sikh girl was kidnapped by a member of the Afridi tribe in Northwest Frontier Province; he also claimed the girl had converted to Islam and therefore could not be returned to her family.” This was also covered in the book of ‘Annual Report of International Religious Freedom’.  In addition, A 2014 report also states that further supports this theory that “about 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam every year.”(n.d,n.a).

In contrast there are the other muslims that may convert due to pressures and for attaining better health-care facilities and jobs due to the foreign land’s main religion being Christianity. This can be noted through this article which states, “Thousands of Muslim migrants are converting to Christianity after they arrive in Europe, raising concerns they are being carried out in a cynical attempt to gain asylum.” (Charlton,C. 2016) This forced form of assimilation is adopted by refugees in order to merge with the foreign land and gain their sympathy and the question is then raised – Is this assimilation really necessary? Moorehead has also noted that there were some women that had drafted kids to gain sympathy in the application process of attaining asylum and interestingly, they let the children return back to where they came from upon realizing that there was no special consensus for women with children. “There is concern that some conversions could be motivated by the belief that it will increase the chance of being granted asylum in Germany, where Christianity is the dominant religion.” (Dearden,L., 2016).

Also, according the statistics, due to the increase number of converts to Christianity, “Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the world’s largest religion, if current trends continue, by 2050 the number of Christians will reach (2.9 billion or 31.4%) and the number of Muslims will be (2.8 billion or 29.7%)”   (Pew Research Center).

On the contrary, it is very sad to note that the refugees actually have to act in the certain way to display the fact that they need asylum. This is noted in the UN definition of the asylum seekers as well which is stated as follows, “When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well-founded.”

The fact that the asylum seekers need to act in a certain way maybe the reason as to why women hire kids to attain access to asylums and this is just one of the many reasons to reason on the behavior of the refugee women. Most refugees do not want to assimilate or leave their original identity as was noted in Tariq’s mother in Moorhead’s story that she was just, “a little girl who never left her home in Balad al Sheik” (Moorehead,p.240). Also there are several refugees that lament over the loss of their identity. “I had a life in Syria, I had friends and family and school. I didn’t want to leave,” Kazazz, 27, from Damascus, told Al Jazeera. Individuals usually assimilate in order to attain asylum because they are still fond of their former identity and are very attached to it.

The main reason to assimilate for these individuals was only because of survival. “It was tough when I first got here because it’s tough to get a job without speaking the language properly and I wasn’t sure whether I’d fit in,” Kazazz said. He insisted, however, he is grateful to be in Germany ‘because I found peace and safety. But: ‘Home is – and will always be – Syria.’” (Ott,S., 2015).  The two coins of the argument remains where the refugees want to assimilate with the society that they live in due to past atrocities and the argument of refugees that feel they are being forced to merge with the new society that has welcomed them.

It is evident that most refugees want to assimilate in the western countries because of the help that was given to them which was not even provided to them by the neighboring countries might be one of the reasons along with the fear of ISIS atrocities but there are others that assimilate only for the sake of surviving in the countries that have taken them in. Therefore, there is a need to investigate on the conversion of these Muslims as well as it might be genuine or it might be a method used by the refugees in order to gain access to asylum.


In conclusion, one can note that there is a positive correlation between the growing assimilation methods and the number of refugees that settle in foreign land. These assimilation methods could be a change in nationality, religious identity, language and culture as well.christianity

This is noted in Tariq and Klein’s story covered by Moorhead in her book and also the growing number of converts of the refugees to Christianity in foreign lands such as Germany.

While it’s not clear as to whether these assimilation techniques are taken up by the refugees in order to adopt and familiarize with the country due to past atrocities or whether it is done under pressure in the hopes of gaining an advantage over the welfare system of the country they live in, It is evident that there is a growing increase of assimilation among refugees that inhabit the foreign lands.

This debatable question arises in the light of the growing number of converts to Christianity. Thus, the matter related to the assimilation of refugees needs to be studied further in order to investigate the concerns of their religious identity related to the refugees.


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