A historical perspective on church asylum : what are the reasons for the decline of church asylums after the 1990’s?
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Church asylum is a phenomenon that has a long history. Especially in medieval times it had a wide extent, and was also recognised within secular law. With the reformation the religious functions of the church buildings changed. As time went by and the democratic government developed and became stronger, this also contributed to that the church asylums lost much of their original importance. The open, acknowledged form of church asylum disappeared. Through different conflicts, churches have though served as hiding places for persecuted people, for example during the Second World War and the Vietnam War. The focus for the thesis is the open, acknowledged church asylums. These came into being again in the USA and Europe in the 1980’s. In Norway it was especially in the beginning of the 1990’s that the phenomenon got attention. At the end of the 90’s, and after year 2000 there have been a decline in interest and in actual numbers. The thesis aims to point to possible factors that can explain the varying numbers of church asylums. Church and public dissatisfaction with current refugee policies are put forward as important for church asylum coming into being. It is however claimed that this do not automatically influence on the number of church asylums. It is further claimed that the authorities’ attitudes and reactions are important for the occurrence of church asylum, but it is questioned whether this can explain the varying numbers. It is asserted that the experiences that the Church of Norway gained in the 1990’s were mainly negative, and as a result the local churches have become reluctant to accept new people. The conclusion is that the church’s changing attitude has been decisive for the varying number of church asylums. Finally, it is claimed that the church has a history of opposing different governments’ refugee polices as too strict, and that they still do so. Because of the negative experiences from the past, it is however questioned whether future asylums will occur. It seems evident that Church of Norway does not want to use church asylum as a mean to express opposing opinions, but that they rather want to express their dissatisfaction through “critical solidarity and dialogue” with the national authorities (Church of Norway - Bishop’s Conference (Bispemøte) 1999, case 03/99).
Master in International Social Welfare and Health Policy