Working on behalf of the Churchesâ Main Committee (representing the spread of Christian denominations in the UK), I have studied a great number of tribunal determinations on asylum claims from across the country, especially claims from people whose conversion to Christianity makes it unsafe for them to return to countries such as Iran.
The adjudicators lack an understanding of the nature of conversion and the differing Christian cultures, whether in this country or in the country of origin. Frequently, ridiculous test questions are asked such as: âWhat is the number of books in the Bible?â? and âWhat is the birth date of Jesus Christ?â? (You have to say December 25.) Failure to produce the required reply breeds a disbelief which prejudices fair judgment.
Many of these applicants are respected members of their congregations and communities, yet evidence by their bishops, clergy and laity who know them best is swept aside by the tribunals.
Dismissal of appeals has led to dawn arrests and deportations at weekends, when it is hard to get preventive injunctions. Legal aid changes have hugely reduced the professional support which can be obtained. On numerous occasions the Home Office has had its fingers rapped by the courts for its refusal to observe due process.
If Labour does lose the next election, it will be partly because all across the country Christian people have lost faith in a government now obsessed with currying popularity rather than standing for justice.
The Very Rev Nicholas Coulton Letter to the Times
And see the Evangelical Alliance’s Alltogether for Asylum Justice – Asylum seekersâ conversion to Christianity (large PDF)
Asylum seekers are in danger of becoming some of the most vulnerable, alienated and demonized members of society.
Churches are central to community engagement and often provide a first port of call to newly arrived asylum seekers as they provide certain core services such as food and clothing, English language courses, and shelter for individuals at risk. It is for this reason that asylum seekers often become engaged with not only the practical side of church life, but also spiritual aspects. Asylum seekers of other faiths and those of no faith often become attracted to Christianity through the work of churches and Christians offering to help them at times of great need. It is, therefore, unsurprising to hear of stories of asylum seekers who convert to Christianity once in the UK. This, however, can complicate their application for asylum. Having arrived in the UK fleeing religious, racial or political persecution in their homeland and initially applying for asylum on those grounds, a conversion to Christianity can provide reason for a fresh claim to be lodged with the Borders and Immigration Agency.
While there are inevitably a proportion of bogus claims of Christian conversion, there remain many asylum seekers who have genuinely chosen to follow the Christian faith. Having had their asylum application refused, they face being sent back to countries where it is not safe for them to practice their faith.
The case studies included in this report are evidence of a number of asylum seekers who, having applied for asylum in the UK under reasons of political persecution, subsequently applied for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution.
Christian human rights organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Release International know it is often unsafe to return a practising Christian to an Islamic country let alone return an apostate (a convert to Christianity) to an Islamic country where conversion is illegal. Therefore, there are grave implications for returning asylum seekers who have converted to Christianity to countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The report includes case studies:
Mrs S became a Christian three years ago after she arrived in the UK from Iran. Her husband is a Muslim. His application for political asylum has been refused. Her fresh application, on the grounds of religious persecution, was refused. The Judge didnât believe that she was a Christian. He accused her pastor, a leader of an Arabic Church, of bias towards her. He is an Iraqi Christian, Mrs S is an Iranian convert.
Mrs S would suffer persecution if she were to return to Iran. Her relatives and friends do not accept conversion. She would be unemployable and subject to physical abuse if returned to Iran.
Mrs S has experienced exclusion for the Iranian community in Wales who canât accept her conversion from Islam to Christianity.
and see Persecution.org