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In the Middle East, atheists can be fined, imprisoned, or murdered for their views. Some of the bravest and most outspoken advocates for secular values have a voice that is wasted because they cannot find employment and spend all their time worrying about the consequences of living in a theocratic dictatorship as someone who does not believe in God.

The secular movement has the power to help them seek asylum in the West, by providing legal services and transitional assistance, from transportation to housing to help with cultural integration and finding employment.

By helping outspoken Middle Eastern atheists, we also help the secular movement. In the West, atheists are rarely victims of violence and state oppression. Our suffering comes from families and communities that are torn apart. To explain prejudice against nonbelievers, we need "poster children" with headline-making life stories. We also need their viewpoints. Passionate activists who have lived under theocracies can educate us about making a real difference in those countries abroad, and can also work as leaders in immigrant communities and in helping ex-Muslims adjust to secular life.

As one of the world's largest and very few truly international atheist organizations, Atheist Alliance International has the global network and overseas experience to help, if properly funded. We must rescue some of the world's brightest flames from being extinguished. We propose an atheist asylum program to shepherd these activists through the transition to the United States, Canada, or elsewhere in the West.

The Challenge

The Middle East is a terrible place to be a prominent atheist. Those who speak out against religion aren't simply ostracized from their families and communities. Atheists who find themselves “outed” in countries where atheism is illegal or not tolerated (primarily Muslim countries) find themselves unable to work, stripped of their property and civil rights. They can be fined, jailed, or murdered.

It's a waste of intellectual capital for big thinkers in an entire region of the world to be so consumed by fear that they cannot contribute to the public debate. Most would gladly flee their country, but that is not so easy. To escape to the free world, they must apply for asylum, have the funds to travel, and then integrate into a new society, including surviving while looking for employment. They deserve our help.

A second challenge is synergistic with this first. In the secular movement, we speak passionately about our cause, building a well-reasoned argument. But most people think emotionally, and they love to hear stories about real people. We have trouble showing that prejudice harms atheists in the United States and the rest of the free world, because much of it happens behind closed doors, in families and communities, and is not violent enough to make headlines. Of course, we would never wish the physical beatings and teen suicide rates of our friends in the gay movement. But we do need headlines. The secular movement needs "poster children" whose life stories demonstrate the harm that religion can do to nonbelievers, in a way that is newsworthy.

A third challenge also presents itself. Cultural norms in the West label us impolite when we criticize religion. We have difficulty getting major media to listen when we point out that Islam is not just another kind of Christianity, harmless towards women and freedom of speech. We are especially hindered by a lack of diversity, where old white men speak to Arab and womens' issues in Islam. We need Islam's own people to speak up. We need advocates with the unique perspective of having lived in a theocracy.

Atheist asylum seekers need us, and we need them.

The Opportunity

We can address this challenge with a model that many religious organizations have proven works: an asylum program. Religious people who wish to flee to the West can find organizational support all the way from the start to the end of their transition:

  • Legal representation to apply for asylum
  • Housing support while they are banned from working in their home countries
  • Travel funds to actually emigrate to a country in the West
  • Sponsors in the new country to help them integrate and find work

Atheist Alliance International (AAI) is one of the world's largest nonbelief groups, with a truly global reach into dozens of countries around the world. Our network of affiliated atheist groups can sponsor and assist atheist refugees seeking asylum in a “safe” country. Having a sponsor group in the destination country is an important piece of successful refugee emigration, working with that country's own immigrant services.


Rescuing nonbelievers from oppression is itself a worthy goal, but the secular movement also benefits when we chose activists:

  • Whose lives are in danger, and thus whose situations are newsworthy, and who give us permission to leverage their life stories for media attention,
  • Who have the energy and desire to further the secular movement,
  • Whose local knowledge will help us with outreach into their home region.
  • Who have the cultural knowledge and drive to become the central leaders in helping other refugees escape to the West.

Project Plan

Atheist Alliance International has identified 5 atheist refugees in the Middle East, from Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan, who are seeking asylum. In the United States, our affiliate group, the Atheist Alliance of America, has offered volunteers as sponsors, to provide refugees with guidance and gap support while they seek employment.

Asylum seekers who still reside in their home countries need legal support and housing while they are forbidden from employment. We seek a legal reserve fund of $25,000 to support 6-10 refugees per year. This helps them process visa applications and prepare for an interview at a US embassy, including transport to the embassy. It also helps them survive financially if they are unable to work because of their nonbelief.

While AAI’s affiliate groups are able to raise funds as needed, it is risky to rely absolutely on a constant cash flow from member donations. It is better to create a reserve fund so that support can be guaranteed to refugees whose lives may be in danger for attempting to flee their home country.

Refugees who successfully emigrate to the United States, Canada, or another democratic nation then need support to integrate into society and find a new job. In the United States, that cost is typically $1,500 - $2,000 per month, and the transition period for most refugees is anywhere from 3 to 6 months before they are established and able to hold a job. We seek integration funds of $40,000 to support successful asylum seekers.


We seek volunteers in the West to provide housing support, emotional support, and help with job seeking and integration to successful asylum seekers.

We seek pro bono legal counsel in the United States and Canada to help asylum seekers apply for a visa.

We seek donors for the legal reserve fund and the integration fund.


Organization: Atheist Alliance International
Contact Name: Stuart Bechman
Contact Email: president@atheistalliance.org