A recent report from a British parliamentary group on religious refugees shows that the United Kingdom’s Home Office has been unfairly rejecting Christians seeking asylum.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Freedom (APPGRM) found that Christians fleeing their home country for the UK are unfairly quizzed on details of their faith. The Home Office has reportedly rejected Christian refugees for issues ranging from being unfamiliar with the various branches of the Anglican church to failure to name all twelve of Jesus Christ’s apostles.
“If you are someone who has become a Christian in Iran, Bibles are not freely available – and you would not necessarily know how many books there are in the Old Testament. You might not know of lent which is not a common concept in Iran,” said Baroness Elizabeth Berridge, the chair of the APPGRM.
The UK, like many countries, accepts refugees who are “persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” as prescribed by the United Nations 1951 Convention.
Issues with case workers reviewing Christian refugee applications are a major reason for many rejections. Problems ranged from incorrect translations to poor training.
“When the system did move on to ask about the lived reality of people’s faith, we then found that caseworkers, who are making decisions which can be life or death for people, were not properly supported and trained properly,” said Berridge.
In once case, an Iranian was denied asylum when he was asked to name the last book of the Bible. He answered correctly with Revelation in his native tongue Farsi, but the Home Office’s bungled translation led to his rejection.
Some refugees were denied based on archaic regulations that are no longer commonly practiced. A refugee from India was rejected because he was not familiar with the Catholic practice of abstinence on Friday, despite a priest noting the regulation was rarely practiced in today’s Catholic community.
Berridge warned that focusing on trivial quizzes, as opposed to investigating why the applicant requires asylum, could lead to abuses of the system.
“The problem with those questions is that if you are not genuine you can learn the answers, and if you are genuine, you may not know the answers,” said Berridge.
According to the Home Office’s own asylum interview handbook, case officers are supposed to focus on the applicant’s “personal experiences and the path taken to the new faith,” particularly in cases of conversion to Christianity from Islam. In fact, the handbook specifically says case officers should only quiz applicants based on what can”reasonably be expected in the light of the claimant’s circumstances.”
The handbook specifically outlines several requirements for Christian refugees, such as “attending worship, association with fellow-believers, and being known to the local church’s leadership (normally the ordained ministers).” Of course, many Christian refugees come from countries where engaging in such activities are illegal, and possibly even life threatening. The handbook does not prescribe the same requirements for refugees of other faiths.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the highest ranking Catholic official in England and Wales, said that UK government policies actively “bypass” Christian refugees coming from war-torn places like Syria. Of particular concern is the focus on taking refugees from established United Nations refugee camps.
“I can see the point in going directly to the refugee camps, but in fact I think its unintended consequence will be that there will be few, if any, Christians coming to this country,” Nichols told BBC Radio 4. “That is because for the most part Christian refugees do not go into the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) camps. They go to fellow Christian organisations.”
The UK’s policies come at a time when Christians across the globe face an all-time high of persecution. A report by watchdog group Open Doors found that 2015 was one of the deadliest years for Christians worldwide. Approximately 7,100 Christians were killed for “faith-related reasons” last year, nearly double that of the previous year.
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