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Better tests sought for asylum-seeker converts

10 June 2016


No turning back: Iraqi Christian refugees shelter in a church compound in Amman, Jordan, last August, but they are barred from working here. A year after they fled, a return to Iraq would not be safe

No turning back: Iraqi Christian refugees shelter in a church compound in Amman, Jordan, last August, but they are barred from working here. A year af...

GOVERNMENT case workers must have a contextual understanding of religion when assessing asylum-seekers who have converted to Chris­­tianity from other faiths, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Anba Angaelos, has said. It is also “unac­ceptable” to learn about relig­ion “in a closet”, without com­mun­ities and religious texts.

Bishop Angaelos was speaking at the launch of a report on religious persecution and asylum by the Asy­lum Advocacy Group (AAG) and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, in West­minster, on Tuesday.

The report, Fleeing Persecution: Asylum claims in the UK on religious freedom grounds, was commissioned to raise awareness of religiously motivated persecution and violence, and its impact on asylum claims.

It says that applications by asylum-seekers who have converted to Christianity are being rejected by the Home Office, on the suspicion that their conversion is motivated solely by a desire to gain asylum.

Evidence submitted to the APPG inquiry this year by more than 20 faith groups and charities suggests that Christian converts seeking asylum are being asked “detail­ed factual ‘Bible trivia’ questions”. The group says this is a “very poor way” of assessing conversion claims.

The report states that a training manual from the Home Office does not “focus in sufficient detail on the full complexities of and knowledge required for working on religious persecution cases”.

The evidence also raised specific issues, such as poor or biased inter­preters, and a lack of compre­hensive data from the Home Office.

Home Office guidelines state
that asylum assessors must decide whether a convert seeking asylum genuinely adheres to the religion. It also states, however, that assessors are not qualified to consider anything other than answers to “basic knowledge questions” about faith.

Mohammed, an Iranian asylum-seeker who converted from Islam, and who is currently placed in Yorkshire, told the BBC on Sunday that case workers tested him on the books of the Bible, and asked him to list the Ten Command­ments, which, he said, he could not remember by heart. His claim was rejected.

This treatment of converts seek­ing asylum in the UK was unfair, the co-chair of the APPG, Baroness Berridge, said, and a risk, because those who were not converts could learn and recite the answers to similar questions.

The report recommends that the Government provide focused train­­ing, with clear statements and examples of cases, to “improve the quality of the decisions made”.

A professor of law at the University of Essex, Geoff Gilbert, said that it was “easy for religion to be ignored or overlooked in the asylum process, because there are
so many other factors to consider”, such as physical persecution, human trafficking, and sexual violence.

The British Pakistani Christian Association has launched a petition to have the current train­ing for asylum assessors reviewed.

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