Religion is alive among immigrants. This is visible in their ethnic religious centres (mosques, musallas, chaplaincies and temples). But they do not play a merely religious role. They are pre-eminent actors in offering reception and welfare services. Immigrants feel at home in places of worship, where they find religious leaders speaking their native language, who share (or recognize) the ethnic background and cultural traditions, and understand the difficulties emerging from mixing their old way of life and the expectations of the new society.
The issue of how faith, ethnicity and acculturation relate to one another is highly relevant in the current so-called ‘migrant and refugee crisis,’ due to the increasing number of people reaching the European Union. Since the failure of the Arab Spring, wars in Syria, Libya and Iraq, repression in Eritrea, and spiralling instability across several African countries have all contributed to the displacement of refugees worldwide. In this scenario, in the last years, some European states have put up signs stating that only ‘Christian’ refugees are welcome and, similarly, some predominantly Muslim countries have reportedly only welcomed Muslim refugees. Moreover, some in the United States and Europe express the fear that ISIS militants may be infiltrating the influx of refugees. Besides, their integration is not limited to receiving them and satisfying labour requests but also cultural and religious needs. The debate on how religious pluralism is (or should be) accommodated in the different countries and both within asylum seekers’ centres and the local communities hosting them, in fact, highlights how difficult it is to manage religious diversity, especially when the real or presumed proportion of Muslims among the newcomers is predominant. What could be considered the most challenging issue in the EU invites the need to deeply scrutinize the actors involved—mainly at the local level—in managing reception and integration activities, taking into consideration not only social and economic dimensions but also cultural and religious dimensions. Among them, immigrant religious associations and faith-based networks play a key role in enabling immigrant integration especially in Southern Europe, which is an increasingly politicized, anti-immigrant environment.
The core point of the chapter is to analyse the role played by ethnic-religious associations, immigrant religious associations and faith-based networks in the host societies in the relationship between religion and settlement paths of refugees and asylum seekers. It relies on extensive desk literature review and qualitative interviews carried out in various Southern European countries with asylum seekers, local administrators, associations, community and religious leaders. The chapter will outline the complex scenario on religion and the current migratory flows to Europe.