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Grilling asylum-seekers about their faith

02 November 2006


Sir, - You published an article ( Comment, 16 December) by Paul Donovan claiming that the Churches are picking up the pieces from the Government's inhumane asylum policies.

We constitute a small informal and ecumenical group networking with many churches and cathedrals across the country in relation to people seeking asylum who have become Christians.

Many of those seeking asylum whom we are in touch with are Iranians, but we also know of people from several other countries whose circumstances are similar. Some became Christian in their country of origin, and thus found themselves forced to flee. Others have become Christian since reaching the UK, partly because the welcome they were given in local churches gave them a vision of a more personal God than they had seen in their homeland.

In February 2005, the Churches Main Committee sent to the Home Secretary a substantial dossier we had compiled, listing improper or erroneous questions used by immigration authorities to establish whether claimants had become genuinely Christian. Many of these are questions that do not have the answers that the authorities presume; others are questions that most regular members of congregations would be hard put to answer.

We also chronicled the experience of many parish clergy who had given tribunal evidence for their belief in a claimant's faith, only to have their evidence swept aside by the adjudicator. There are difficulties also when a claimant has to speak about faith, whether at initial interview or at tribunal, through an interpreter who does not understand the technicalities of that faith, or may be hostile to it.

Continuing correspondence with the Home Secretary led in October to a meeting in the Home Office with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Andy Burnham MP, and officials from Legal Services and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. Mr Burnham has now offered continuing contact and discussion where there seems to be injustice, and for faith training of caseworkers.

So that we can build up a more comprehensive picture, we invite clergy and congregations to let us know of people who are worshipping with them while seeking permission to remain, particularly when they believe that immigration procedures have led to conspicuous injustice and hardship. While we ourselves are only a small group, each of whom has other commitments, the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice has promised to help us with handling the flow of information.

Letters can be sent to the Very Revd Nicholas Coulton at the address below (or email nicholas.coulton@chch.ox.ac.uk).
Nicholas Coulton, Fleur Houston, Maureen Priddin,
David Harte, Puck de Raadt,
Bassi Mirzania, c/o Christ Church, Oxford OX1 1DP

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