Persecution review is hit by departmental turf wars

15 February 2019

PA

The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt

The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt

CHRISTIAN charities have expressed concern that the review of Britain’s support for persecuted Christians is being too narrowly defined.

The independent review, which was commissioned by the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and announced on Boxing Day (News, 4 January), will survey only support given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the review’s terms of reference, published late last week, suggest.

Several religious-freedom charities had privately expressed hopes that the review would encompass the work of the Home Office and the Department for International Development (DfID). The Home Office’s hesitation over an asylum offer to Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian farm worker imprisoned for blasphemy, who was recently acquitted and freed (News, 1 February, 30 November 2018), has added to doubts about its commitment to victims of religious persecution.

In northern Iraq, Christian clergy have complained that Christians have been excluded from DfID-organised aid because of their fear of entering UN camps where it is distributed.

Speaking in the House of Lords last week, Lord Alton, a Roman Catholic and a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, asked why the review would not be considering the effect of policies on aid and asylum at DfID and the Home Office.

In response, the Prime Minister’s religious-freedom envoy, Lord Ahmad, said: “The review was commissioned by the Foreign Secretary into the work of the FCO; so it would be inappropriate to make findings and/or recommendations to other departments. Other public authorities may wish to take note of the points of learning. The review will be presented to the Foreign Secretary.”

One charity insider said that there would be widely felt “astonishment and disappointment” that the Foreign Office had decided to ring-fence itself from its sister department (DfID), given the close links between the two departments.

The terms of reference suggest that only part of the review will now be submitted by Easter, the original deadline. A second part will be submitted at the end of June. It has taken weeks for the author commissioned by Mr Hunt, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, to reach an agreement on the terms of reference with the Foreign Office.

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