UK All-Party Parliamentary report finds inadequate assessment of religion-based asylum claims

Archbishop Cranmer web snippetThe religious blog Archbishop Cramer highlights a new report from the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The politicians had gathered evidence about the quality of the assessment of religion-based asylum claims in the UK and the impact of the asylum procedure on the fairness and quality of decision-making.

Can you name the twelve apostles or when is Pentecost? How many books are in the Bible? Who betrayed Jesus to the Romans?

These are some of the questions asked of asylum seekers during their interview with the Home Office as part of their application to stay in the UK. Whilst they may seem reasonable, a new report reveals that such questions, often referred to as “Bible trivia”, are a very poor way of assessing a conversion asylum claim and result in wrong decisions and expensive appeals.

The report recommends:

Further training is required to ensure that UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) decision-making is consistent with UKVI guidance. This report demonstrates that there is a disparity between Home Office policy guidelines and what is actually happening in practice.

The blog’s deputy editor Gillian Scott writes:

The levels of ignorance displayed by some Home Office officials toward Christian asylum seekers is nothing short of appalling. Admittedly, the assessment of religious persecution is likely to be complex and demanding: the report’s authors find that there is already sufficient, sound and nuanced guidance formulated by the Home Office to assist in assessing applications, but too often it is ignored or poorly implemented. Knowledge of churches and liturgies is sometimes based on a quick survey of churches’ websites, which may have limited information. In one case, the official had not realised that an Anglican Church can also be an Evangelical one, and thus found the applicant’s testimony inconsistent as it did not match the church’s public information on its website.

asylum report front coverAn example was given by a solicitor, describing an instance of an interpreter without the necessary religious vocabulary could disadvantage those claiming asylum:

Mohammad was an active house church leader in Iran. His case was refused because the Home Office did not believe he was a Christian. He lost his first appeal because of mistranslation of Christian terminology at the hearing. During the tribunal hearing, the judge asked him to state the name of the last book of the Bible. Mohammad responded Mokashefe, which is the Farsi word for Revelation; the Muslim interpreter repeated the same word to the Judge. The judge in his decision stated that the last book of the Bible was not Mokashefe but rather the book of Revelation. Mohammad also did not have any lawyer and therefore could not answer all the judge’s questions promptly as he was under a lot of pressure. He won his case at the Upper Tribunal though after instructing a lawyer, having a witness and having a different interpreter.

The blog post finishes with a challenge:

We may be shielded from the worst horrors of religious persecution in our cosy corner of the world, but that does not excuse the treatment of the relatively small numbers who do make it to our shores. Is it really too much to ask the Home Office to open its eyes and start treating Christian asylum seekers with the (dare we say Christian) decency and fairness that they deserve?

Bishop Angaelos AAGHis Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK and Moderator of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is also founder and of the Asylum Advocacy Group. Involved with the report, upon publication he commented:

“We have been working in collaboration with the Home Office for several years to ensure that the measures applied to determine the credibility of applications do not inadvertently disadvantage those truly in need of refuge and support.

“While many have the benefit of freely choosing their faith or belief in some parts of the world, there are others for whom this decision makes them vulnerable to persecution, to the extent of sometimes threatening their very existence.

“Conscious of the fact that some will desire to abuse the system, we must not forget the humaneness with which those legitimately applying on religious freedom grounds should be treated. This is not just a matter of statistics, because even if one case is misjudged, that represents one life placed at greater risk.”