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Before apportioning blame, put your own house in order

by
16 February 2024

Government figures have accused the Church of naïvety, and worse, when it comes to the conversion of asylum-seekers. Nicholas Reed-Langen wonders why

RELIGIOUS belief rests on the acceptance of the unknown. None of us will receive the reassurance of St Thomas, who, doubting the resurrection of Christ, was told to put his finger into Christ’s wounds.

For ministers, this means that someone’s professions of faith must be taken at face value. All — including the clergy — have said the creed with differing degrees of conviction, and, when the faithful declare their belief in “God, the Father almighty”, the part played by the priest is not to doubt them, but to support them on their path towards redemption.

This is what Abdul Ezedi’s pastor did when offering him refuge at his church, and in supporting his nascent Christian faith. In the absence of a genuine reason to doubt Mr Ezedi’s faith, writing to the immigration tribunal and acknowledging Mr Ezedi’s conversion was the pastor’s duty, not his choice. What the asylum tribunal did with this information was up to the tribunal.

Had Mr Ezedi remained within the law, this support might have been commended. Instead, he assaulted his former partner, travelling from Newcastle to Croydon, in south London, to throw a corrosive substance over her and her daughter in Clapham. Fleeing from the scene, he wandered the streets before, as the police believe, leaping to his death from Chelsea Bridge.

Mr Ezedi is the only guilty party here. He chose to travel to the UK for asylum and claimed to have converted to Christianity. He chose to travel to London to attack his innocent partner. And he chose his own end. No one at his church could have known what was on his mind, or bears any responsibility for what lay there.

 

THIS has not stopped members of the Government from falling on the Church of England, using it as a scapegoat for the broader failings in the asylum system.

Robert Jenrick, the former immigration minister, called it a “watershed moment”, urging Rishi Sunak to use the tragedy as justification for pursuing “the tough measures necessary”. To Mr Jenrick’s mind, these measures primarily revolve around disregarding international law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

But the Government has created its own watershed moment, setting aside the Supreme Court’s finding of fact, insisting that Rwanda is a safe country in the face of firm evidence to the contrary, and wishing to give the Home Office authority to ignore the European Convention.

Even Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights — a cross-party committee — concluded unanimously that the Rwanda Bill was “fundamentally incompatible” with the UK’s international obligations.

In The Daily Telegraph, Suella Braverman, a former Home Secretary, wrote that churches and clergy were engaging in immigration fraud on “an industrial scale” (News, 9 February). Such was the threat that they posed, she argued, that it was necessary to set up task forces to target them. Just a reminder: churches have no control over who is granted asylum — that responsibility is the Home Office’s alone.

But such a deflection of responsibility is crucial for Ms Braverman and her fellow travellers when arguing for the hard-line policies that they desire. The alternative would be to have to accept that the Home Office is failing in management of asylum claims, and that punitive policies are not working as a deterrent. Even the most extreme right-wingers would have to work hard to make the UK as unwelcoming as the dangerous countries that many asylum-seekers are fleeing.

The press has not been blameless in its reporting of immigration issues. The Times this week seemed to follow the Telegraph’s lead, reporting breathlessly on how the clergy had helped “murderers and rapists” to stay in the UK. It was only later in the story that it was mentioned that only one per cent of asylum claims included conversion to Christianity. Of the 28 appeals mentioning conversion which came before the immigration tribunal in the past year, only seven were upheld, eight were reserved, and 13 were rejected. This is less a storm in a teacup and more a drizzle in a thimble.

If the Conservative Party is to have any success in this year’s General Election, dividing the nation and apportioning blame to guiltless parties will be crucial. Voters need to believe that it is not the Government that is responsible for the nation’s ills, but liberal-minded institutions such as the Church of England. No mention will be made of the real reforms that are needed, such as ensuring that asylum-seekers have legal representation from the outset, or properly funding the immigration courts.

No one could have known what Abdul Ezedi was planning to do. Asylum-seekers are not all saints, and mistakes will always be made. But the way to minimise error is not to harden policies in order to deport refugees faster (and further). It is to acknowledge our international obligations — not only to accept asylum-seekers, but also to fund a process that treats them humanely, judges them fairly, and supports them effectively.

 

Nicholas Reed Langen is a writer on legal and constitutional affairs, a former Re:Constitution Fellow (2021-22), and editor of the LSE Public Policy Review.

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