A JUDICIAL review of the Home Office’s action over Syrian refugees promised by a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has been welcomed by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen.
In the Sunday Telegraph last week, Dr Carey wrote of the low numbers of Christians among the Syrians who had been granted asylum in the UK, including 1.6 per cent of those welcomed under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPRS) in 2015, and noted that, in the first three months of last year, none of 1112 Syrians resettled had been Christian (News, 3 August 2018).The Yazidi and Druze minorities had been treated “just as unfairly”.
“The effective bar on persecuted Christians coming to the UK is the choice of Whitehall,” he wrote. “We need a culture change. To that end I have decided to expose the mindset which allows discrimination to persist. I am launching a judicial review of the Home Office’s action over Syrian refugees.”
On Wednesday, Bishop Mounstephen, who chaired the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians, said that Lord Carey had “highlighted a horrifying example of our ‘blind spot’ when it comes to the persecution of Christians. Sadly, it is not an isolated case.”
The VPRS, which is not the only route for Syrians seeking asylum in the UK, is run according to vulnerability criteria set by the UNHCR, which gives priority to groups including survivors of violence and/or torture and those with medical needs or disabilities. The Government has confirmed that it does not take into consideration ethno-religious origins (News, 3 August 2018).
Last year, the UNHCR said that its desire to keep families and faith communities together was one reason that it had generally submitted more minorities to other European countries — as well as to North America and Australia — than to the UK, where only 0.2 per cent of Syrian Christian refugees had relatives.
Other factors include Syrian Christians’ migration to neighbouring countries, including Lebanon — countries that wish to preserve the region’s religious diversity — and the fact that most of the opposition to the Syrian government was led by Sunni Muslims.
In 2015, amid concerns that Christians were unlikely to enter UNHCR camps, the General Synod called on the Government to “work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure that vulnerability to religiously motivated persecution is taken into account when determining who is received into Britain” (News, 4 December 2015).
“As I have said previously, religion is a massive vulnerability marker for many communities worldwide,” Bishop Mounstephen said on Wednesday. “The oft-cited Western mantra that we attend to ‘need not creed’ disguises this fundamental fact. Put simply, your creed might put you in much greater need — and we cannot be blind to that.”