London: June 6, 2016. (PCP) The All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Freedom (APPGRM) have reported that asylum claims from converts to Christianity are being unfairly rejected because officials are making basic mistakes about the faith and what followers should know.
The report states that the Home Office isn't sticking to its own guidelines. MPs said some converts were rejected because they couldn't name the twelve apostles or recall "Bible trivia", despite evidence that they practised the faith.
Under international law, a refugee is someone who has fled persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular group. Asylum seekers who have converted from one faith to another can seek protection in the UK if they can show their safety is at risk if they return home.
The Home Office's guidance says officials deciding asylum claims from converts must decide whether the applicant genuinely adheres to the religion - but stresses they are not qualified to assess anything other than answers to "basic questions" about faith.
But in their report, the MPs said there was evidence that this lack of expert knowledge had perversely encouraged assessors to focus on simplistic trivia, rather than searching questions about why someone had converted in the first place.
Recently rejected cases included:
Individuals unable to detail the various books and chapters of the New Testament
Interpreters confused by some Christian concepts
Case workers who didn't understand the various branches of the Anglican Church
One asylum seeker from India was rejected after proving to be ignorant of the Catholic rule of abstinence on Fridays, despite expert evidence from a priest that the practice was far from common among similar converts because of other cultural reasons.
The case of another rejected applicant from Iran partly turned on the fact that when he was asked to name the last book of the Bible, Revelation, his correct answer in Farsi was misunderstood.
The APPG warned that such a focus on Bible trivia and practice, rather than a deep interpretation of faith, meant bogus converts could win their cases just by recalling a list of facts.
Baroness Berridge, chair of the APPG on International freedom of religion and belief, said: "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.
"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.
"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."
There are no official figures on asylum claims by converts but anecdotal evidence indicates the vast majority appear to be cases of former Muslims who have turned to Christianity, many of whom have completed their conversion once they have left their home country.
In Iran, many converts practice secretly in "house churches" often without the support of academically qualified priests.
British Pakistani Christian Association has been highlighting concerns about this malpractice including raising the problem at €recent evidence hearing sessions at Westminster.
Further discussions have culminated in a scheduled meeting with the Home Office's Asylum Learning & Development Team on 21st July 2016, to 'meet and discuss concerns and training ideas and perhaps work out a solution that will satisfy all parties.'
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said: "Our expertise is in the area of Pakistani Christians who make up less than 120 applicants for asylum in the UK each year. Less than 50% attain leave to remain in the UK on initial application and appeals yield little success. This is largely due to the failure of the UK authorities to recognise Pakistan as a country in which Christians face persecution, despite 700 Christian girls being kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriage every year, 4 major bomb attacks targeting Christians in 5 years, a dark history of mob attacks on Christian communities after false blasphemy charges to say the least."
He added: "In their latest Country Information and Guidance on Christians in Pakistan, the Home Office have recognised that persecution is significantly more likely towards Christian converts. However, poor assessment tools mean that these extremely high-risk individuals, who have lost everything they own, everyone they know and have their worlds turned upside down, discover there is no safe refuge in the UK. Decision makers use High Anglican or Catholic Church institutional process and bible trivia as an assessment tool, rather than a more appropriate understanding of the Christian concept of salvation and redemption or the epiphany of truth felt by those leaving Islam. Sadly the lack of understanding of established church practice for new believers is deemed a failing despite the great passion for the Christian faith exhibited by victims."
He further added: "Pakistani Muslims are notably the most intolerant towards apostates (those who have abandoned Islam), extrajudicial killings are commonplace, despite no actual apostasy laws. Home Office decision makers fail to understand the gut-wrenching, decision to lose the family and community apostates face in order to follow their newly found one and true God, a concept ubiquitous to all converts from Islam. A decision that will make them pariahs in many Muslim communities and subject to derision and violence. This is not a decision a Pakistani or another Muslim would make lightly and rarely in my view is a conversion found to be false. Nevertheless, suspicion about the true nature of converts pervades within the global church, which has culminated in extremely poor support for family-less apostates, compounding their misery."