Iran's embattled Christian community is fleeing rising religious persecution, with hundreds securing refuge in the unlikely sanctuary of Bulgaria.
Omid Salehi, 21, who converted with his family to Christianity 12 years ago, is typical of the religious refugees pouring out of the Islamic nation. Five members of his family fled first to Turkey, then made their way to Bulgaria, the former Soviet bloc country that lies across the Black Sea from Turkey and now enjoys European Union status.
“My family changed from Muslim to Christian and when you convert it is so hard to live [in Iran],” said Salehi, who worked in an optics business in Iran and was introduced to Christianity by a friend who had converted from Islam to Christianity and took them to a prayer meeting at a Christian home.
Iran’s regime carried out yet another wave of arrests in July, targeting Christians and leaders of the country’s struggling Home Church movement.
Nikolai Chirpanliev, president of Bulgaria’s State Agency for Refugees, said the Iranian Christian community is growing in Sofia.
“Now there are 100 to 200 people from Iran," he said. "They are running because of the existing regime in Iran, where they are being persecuted because of their religion.”
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