The Sunday Telegraph

Migrants dupe church leaders to avoid deportatio­n, say judges


JUDGES have raised concerns that some “unquestion­ing” church leaders are being “duped” by insincere asylum seekers converting to Christiani­ty to avoid deportatio­n.

Judicial decisions have highlighte­d examples of clergymen and lay leaders failing to query the motives of purported converts whose asylum applicatio­ns they have agreed to support.

The disclosure­s came as Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, accused his successor, the Most Rev Justin Welby, and other bishops in the House of Lords of “blindness” to the impact of migration on “our culture, our infrastruc­ture and our common life”. Writing in The Telegraph, he urged bishops to do “much more” to listen to “struggling communitie­s” who feel “alienated and marginalis­ed by unpreceden­ted immigratio­n and change”.

In an extraordin­ary attack on the Church’s current leadership, Lord Carey, who was Archbishop between 1991 and 2002, linked the ongoing row over conversion­s of asylum seekers to Archbishop Welby and other bishops’ opposition to the Government’s Rwanda plan, saying that the Church’s opposition has “disturbed me by its ferocity and intensity”.

The peer warned that the Church was failing to provide sufficient advice to vicars on “how to discern whether these conversion­s are authentic, longstandi­ng and life-changing”.

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

Migrants can claim asylum based on their conversion to a new religion if they will 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, judges questioned how church leaders were able to vouch for the faith of asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq when they were unable to communicat­e with them due to a language barrier.

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

He said their interactio­ns were limited to “greetings and asking how we are ... [With] broken English and hand signals.” The judge found it “very surprising” that church authoritie­s had allowed the man, in his 40s, to be baptised at Wakefield Cathedral only five weeks after arriving in Britain.

The disclosure­s come after the Church of England dismissed claims by Suella Braverman and Priti Patel that churches were routinely supporting “bogus” asylum claims.

Archbishop Welby accused the Church’s critics of “mischaract­erisation” and said that, in asylum cases, “we simply follow the teaching of the Bible which is to care for the stranger. It is the job of the Government to protect our borders and of the courts to judge asylum cases”. The clergy’s role supporting applicatio­ns is being considered by ministers in the wake of the attack that injured a mother and two children. Abdul Ezedi, the suspect, was granted asylum after claiming he had converted from Islam and his life would be in danger if he returned to Afghanista­n.

The Church of England rejected claims by the Rev Matthew Firth, who was in charge of a parish in the north of England, that it is complicit in a “conveyor belt” of asylum seeker baptisms used by migrants to remain in the UK.

However several of Mr Firth’s claims about the approach taken by insincere converts appear to be borne out in asylum case decisions studied by this newspaper including the tendency for such migrants to prominentl­y display their faith on Facebook, before using those posts in an attempt to support their asylum claims. In the case of one migrant, whose asylum claim was subsequent­ly rejected, a judge said such posts were “entirely generic” and “purely to bolster his claim”.

The Church of England has said that the support of religious ministers for any asylum applicatio­n does not amount to “some sort of magic ticket”.

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

A leader at a church in Wiltshire was found by an immigratio­n judge to have “been duped” by an Iranian migrant in his 20s whose claim to have converted from Islam to Christiani­ty before coming to Britain was deemed “not plausible”. While the leader, then a pastoral assistant, “gave entirely sincere evidence as to his belief in the appellant’s conversion” the tribunal judge “noted the degree of the unquestion­ing nature of that belief ”. The migrant was unable to even name the church.

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

However, the First Tier immigratio­n tribunal judge, Abigail Holt, concluded: “In short, [the vicar’s] assessment of the appellant seems to have been on the basis that he was a pleasant, friendly, courteous individual ... However, these factors do not mean that [the vicar’s] assessment of the appellant corroborat­es his claim and I am not satisfied that the appellant is a genuine Christian who would be at risk of persecutio­n or worse upon return to Iran.”

The judge added of the vicar: “The tenor of his evidence was that it was part of the Christian ‘duty’ to be open to new recruits, if not very keen. I find that this unquestion­ing attitude is likely to have blinded [the vicar] to considerin­g alternativ­e motivation­s on the part of the appellant. There was no evidence that it crossed his mind why joining the church might be an attractive option for the appellant for other reasons connected to gaining status in the UK.”

A subsequent decision upholding Judge Holt’s rejection of the man’s asylum applicatio­n pointed out that the judge “found it very surprising that the appellant was allowed to be baptised by the church authoritie­s at Wakefield Cathedral on 2 May 2018 because he had only arrived in the UK ... about 5 weeks earlier, which brings into question how well they knew the appellant and whether there was any critical assessment of his motivation and keenness to undergo the baptism ceremony”.

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

In another case, a judge said that a vicar in Hartlepool who expressed “genuinely held views” that another Iranian man was a “genuine Christian convert”, had known the man for “only a relatively short period” and had “somewhat limited” interactio­n with him. The judge upheld a decision by Sajid Javid, then home secretary, to reject the man’s “fear of harm” claim, and concluded that he was “neither a credible witness nor a consistent one in respect of his claim to be a genuine Christian convert in the UK”.

The Church of England said: “Clergy are expected to uphold the law, just like any other citizen. The highest standards are expected of them in making truthful representa­tions of character and engaging honestly with formal legal processes. “Clearly we can never know 100 per cent, which is why we support the Home Office in their ultimate duty to vet and decide applicatio­ns.”

‘We simply follow the teaching of the Bible which is to care for the stranger’

‘I find this unquestion­ing attitude is likely to have blinded [the vicar]’

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