LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Church leaders are lambasting a letter from a UK government department questioning the religious beliefs of an Iranian Christian asylum seeker.
Asylum caseworker Nathan Stevens published the letter received by the Iranian national – a convert to Christianity from Islam who applied for asylum in Britain in 2016.
The applicant told the Home Office – the UK government department that deals with immigration and border security – that the one reason he converted to Christianity was because the religion was more peaceful than Islam.
In the letter rejecting asylum, the Home Office pulled several verses from the Bible which it said showed that Christianity wasn’t peaceful, including verses from Exodus, Leviticus, and the Book of Revelation.
“These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful religion’ as opposed to Islam, which contained violence and rage,” the letter reads.
Excerpt from a home office reasons for refusal letter for a convert to Christianity. I’ve seen a lot over the years, but even I was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum. pic.twitter.com/R1wA1HMNwH
— Nathan Stevens (@nathestevens) March 19, 2019
To claim asylum in the UK, you must have a “well-founded fear” of persecution on account of ethnicity, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
Apostasy is a capital offense in Iran, and those who leave Islam face the death penalty.
A 2016 report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief faulted the Home Office for its handling of asylum claims by Christian converts from Muslim-majority countries, and the next year the Home Office pledged to begin new training procedures for staff.
(As an example of how bad things were at the time, Stevens mentioned that several years ago, a refusal letter for another Iranian Christian convert said: “You affirmed in your AIR that Jesus is your savior, but then claimed that He would not be able to save you from the Iranian regime. It is therefore considered that you have no conviction in your faith and your belief in Jesus is half-hearted.”)
According to a statement released by the Home Office, the most recent letter “is not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution,” and that the department is working to “improve our policy guidance and training provided to asylum decision-makers so that we approach claims involving religious conversion in the appropriate way.”
Sarah Teather, the director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK , said the letter is evidence the Home Office is “willing to distort any aspect of reality” to turn down asylum claims, calling this particular case an “outrageous example of the reckless and facetious approach of the Home Office to determining life and death asylum cases.”
The Jesuit Refugee Service as in the past complained that the Home Office has looked for reasons to turn down asylum applications, as opposed to giving each applicant an impartial hearing.
This view is shared by James McKinney, deputy editor of the website Free Movement, who said that Home Office staff “come up with any reason they can to refuse asylum.”
“You can see from the text of the letter that the writer is trying to pick holes in the asylum seeker’s account of their conversion to Christianity and using the Bible verses as a tool to do that,” he told the Independent.
However, McKinney said it is “not necessarily a systemic outbreak of anti-Christian sentiment in the department.”
Teather said the case “demonstrates the shocking illiteracy of Christianity” within the Home Office.
“Here at JRS, we routinely encounter cases where asylum has been refused on spurious grounds. Some of these cases require more legal knowledge to recognize than this bizarre misquoting of the Bible,” she said.
Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, said the latest incident caused him “great concern.”
“It must be determined whether this is merely out of misunderstanding or a proactive attempt to adversely affect the application of someone whose life may very literally be at risk. It must also be ascertained as to whether religious discrimination is at work, as there is no place for partiality within a Government that seeks to promote equality,” the archbishop said in a statement.
Angaelos said that since the publication of the Iranian Christian’s asylum rejection letter, “other examples have also arisen of similar malpractices when it comes to misrepresenting Scripture and rejecting asylum claims on those grounds, and so I do hope that these are also looked at in their entirety, and not a single case in isolation.”
The archbishop added that “we must realize the extent of these actions, and that they have a bearing on people of faith who are potentially vulnerable in their state of origin, and vulnerable here in Britain as asylum seekers, and for this we must take great care to ensure that such violations do not go undetected or untreated.”
Ironically, the Home Office’s hardline stance on Christian convert asylum seekers comes as the UK Foreign Office is drawing attention to the plight of persecuted Christians around the word.
Earlier this year, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt officially launched a government inquiry into the problem, noting that 80 percent of people suffering persecution due to religion are Christian.
Hunt said the foreign office was launching the inquiry “not just because freedom of worship is a fundamental human right, but because also freedom of worship is the invisible line between open societies and closed societies.”
“Where freedom of worship is hampered or prevented, then usually that’s a sign of lots of other things going wrong, and we wanted to make sure that the UK is doing everything to champion the values that we all believe in,” he said on Jan. 30.
However, domestic political concerns are taking precedence when those persecuted Christians seek asylum in the UK.
In 2010, the ruling Conservative party pledged to cut immigration to the UK to “the tens of thousands,” a target many experts saw as impractical.
Since that time, the government has made it more difficult for all sorts of immigrants to come to the country, including spouses of British citizens, students, and academic appointments.
In the process, they have also tightened up the procedures for asylum seekers to prove their refugee status.
Teather said as the rejection letter to the Iranian Christian is in the news, “we need to remember it reflects a systematic problem and a deeper mindset of disbelief within the Home Office, and is not just an anomaly that can be explained away.”