Asylum seekers force church leaders to avoid deportation, judges say

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other bishops in the House of Lords have been accused of “blindness” to the impact of mass migration – DOUG PETERS/PA

Judges have expressed concern that some “unquestioning” church leaders are being “raised” by unreliable asylum seekers who would convert to Christianity to avoid deportation.

A series of judicial decisions have highlighted examples of clergy and lay leaders failing to ask questions about the motives of purported converts whose asylum applications they have agreed to support.

The revelation came as Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, accused his successor, the Rt Revd Justin Welby, and other bishops in the House of Lords of being “blind” to the impact of mass migration on “our culture, our infrastructure and our bishops. environment”.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he urged bishops to do “much more” to listen to “struggling communities” who feel “alienated and marginalized by unprecedented rates of immigration and change”.

In an extraordinary attack on the current leadership of the Church, Lord Carey, who was Archbishop between 1991 and 2002, linked the ongoing conflict over the conversion of asylum seekers with Archbishop Welby and other bishops’ opposition to the Government’s plan in Rwanda, at say that the opposition of the Church has followed. “I was impressed by his attitude and intensity”.

The peer warned that the Church was failing to adequately advise vicars on “how to ascertain whether these conversions are authentic, lasting and life-changing”.

A judge was surprised that church authorities allowed an asylum seeker to be baptized at Wakefield Cathedral, pictured, just five weeks after he arrived.A judge was surprised that church authorities allowed an asylum seeker to be baptized at Wakefield Cathedral, pictured, just five weeks after he arrived.

A judge was shocked that church authorities allowed an asylum seeker to be baptized at Wakefield Cathedral, pictured, just five weeks after he arrived – LORNE CAMPBELL/GUZELIAN

Immigration tribunal decisions analyzed by this newspaper show that the Home Office has repeatedly raised questions in court about the extent to which clerks are “inquiring” into the true intentions of migrants seeking to convert from Islam to to Christianity.

Migrants can claim asylum based on their conversion to a new religion if they face persecution in their home country because of their new faith. In many cases religious ministers agree to support their claims.

In two separate cases uncovered by this newspaper, the judges questioned how local church leaders were able to confirm the faith of asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq when they were unable to communicate properly with them due to a language barrier.

In one case a vicar claimed to have had a “deep” conversation with an Iranian-born migrant whose application he was supporting, despite the man himself saying the two had never discussed their faith “face-to-face”.

He said their interactions were limited to “saying hello and asking how we are … [With] Broken English and hand signals.” In the same case the judge found him “very surprised” that the church authorities allowed the man, in his 40s, to be baptized at Wakefield Cathedral just five weeks after he arrived in Britain.

The revelation comes after the Church of England dismissed claims by Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, in last week’s Sunday Telegraph, that churches were regularly supporting “false” asylum claims.

George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said opposition to the Government's plan in Rwanda George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said opposition to the Government's plan in Rwanda

George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said “I am disturbed by my opposition to the Government’s Rwanda plan” – ANDREW CROWLEY

Archbishop Welby accused critics of the Church of “misinformation” and said that in cases of asylum, “we simply follow the teaching of the Bible, which is to care for the stranger. It is the responsibility of the Government to protect our borders and the responsibility of the courts to judge asylum cases”.

Ministers are considering the role of clergy in supporting asylum applications following the chemical attack that injured a mother and two children. Abdul Ezedi, the suspect, was eventually granted asylum after he claimed he had converted from Islam and that his life would be in danger if he returned to Afghanistan.

The Church of England has rejected claims by the Reverend Matthew Firth, who led a parish in the north of England, that it has joined a “conveyor belt” of asylum-seeker baptisms used by migrants to stay in the UK.

However, many of Mr Firth’s claims about the approach taken by surprise conversions appear to be reflected in the decisions on asylum cases studied by this newspaper – including the tendency of such migrants to prominently display faith on Facebook, before using those posts as an effort to support them. their claims for asylum. In the case of one migrant, whose asylum claim was later rejected, a judge said such posts were “absolutely generic” and “were going to strengthen his claim”.

The Church of England has said that the support of religious ministers for any asylum application is not “some kind of magic ticket”.

But judicial decisions analyzed by this newspaper show a series of cases since 2018 in which judges have questioned accounts given by religious or lay church leaders about asylum seekers claiming to be genuine converts to Christianity.

Immigrants able to name a church

In one case, an immigration judge ruled that a leader at an evangelical church in Wiltshire had been “harmed” by an Iranian migrant in his 20s who was deemed “unbelievable” to claim he had converted from Islam to Christianity before coming to Britain. .

Although the leader, who was a pastoral assistant at the time, gave “absolutely sincere evidence of his belief in the conversion of the appellant” the bench judge noted “the unquestioned extent of that belief”. The migrant could not even name the church.

In another case, the vicar of a church in Barnsley wrote letters and appeared at a formal hearing to support an Iranian-born man in his 40s who claimed to be a Christian convert.

However, First Tier immigration tribunal judge Abigail Holt said: “In short, [the vicar’s] it appears that the appellant was assessed on the basis that he was a pleasant, friendly, courteous person … These factors, however, do not mean [the vicar’s] The assessment of the appellant confirms his claim and I am not satisfied that the appellant is a true Christian who would be at risk of persecution or worse on returning to Iran.”

The judge told the vicar: “The gist of his evidence was that it was part of the Christian ‘duty’ to be open to new recruits, if he was not very keen. I think this unquestioning attitude is more likely blind [the vicar] to consider other motivations on the part of the appellant. There was no evidence that it ever crossed his mind why the appellant might be an attractive option to join the church for reasons other than achieving status in the UK, ie. apart from his claims that he is genuinely interested in Christianity. In short, [the vicar] that the appellant uncritically accepted at ‘face value’.”

A subsequent decision upholding Judge Holt’s rejection of the man’s asylum application stated that “the judge was very surprised that the church authorities at Wakefield Cathedral allowed the appellant to be baptized on 2 May 2018 because it only reached the UK. .. about 5 weeks before, which calls into question how well they knew the appellant and whether there was any critical assessment of his motivation and desire to undertake the baptism ceremony”.

‘fear of harm’ claim rejected

In the second case, a judge concluded that the lay leader of a church in Wigan, Greater Manchester, had “attempted to gloss over the language problem” in the case of an asylum seeker she was supporting – despite the vicar admitting that the migrant’s case was . His English was “so poor that it took him weeks to understand why he came to the church in the first place”, according to the 2019 decision.

In another case, the judge said he had known the man for a “relatively short period” at a vicar in Hartlepool who expressed “genuine views” that another Iranian-born man was a “genuine Christian convert”, “on for a relatively short period of time” and that there was “somewhat limited” interaction with him.

The judge upheld the decision of Sajid Javid, the then home secretary, to reject the man’s claim of “fear of harm”, and concluded that he was “not a credible or consistent witness to his claim of being a true Christian convert. in the United Kingdom”.

A Church of England spokesman said: “Clergy are expected to uphold the law, just like any other citizen, and are therefore expected to the highest standards in making honest representations of character and engaging honestly with formal legal processes.

“Obviously we will never know 100 per cent, which is why we support the Home Office in their final duty of vetting and deciding applications. In the Barnsley case, the system clearly worked – the evidence given by the church was not conclusive, the judge made a decision, and in this case the application was refused.”

The Anglican Diocese of Leeds, which is responsible for Wakefield Cathedral, said the ministers took potential baptisms “extremely seriously” and knew they “must demonstrate an understanding of personal integrity and faithful commitment when bringing people to baptism”. .

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