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Church of England says no evidence asylum seekers are converting to Christianity to stay in country

by Donna Birrell

The Church of England says it has no evidence to suggest asylum seekers are converting to Christianity in order to launch appeals to stay in the country.

The Church was responding to claims by the Home Secretary, Piti Patel, that there is what she calls a "merry-go-round" of failed asylum seekers changing religion and using other tactics to further their appeals.  

It's understood the Liverpool taxi explosion suspect Emad Al Swealmeen had his application refused in 2015 a year after arriving in the UK. He was baptised in 2015 and confirmed into the Christian faith two years later at Liverpool Cathedral. The Cathedral said that asylum seekers who convert would be expected to be "closely connected" with the congregation for at least two years before staff would support a visa application.

“Liverpool Cathedral has developed robust processes for discerning whether someone might be expressing a genuine commitment to faith. These include requirements for regular attendance alongside taking part in a recognised Christian basics course. We would expect someone to be closely connected with the community for at least two years before we would consider supporting an application."

After leaving the cathedral, Al Swealmeen attended Emmanuel Church at Fazakerley in Liverpool until 2019. Rev Mike Hindley said the congregation, who remember him as a keen baker, was in shock about what had happened.

"It's just bewildering that a guy, who was a really kind guy, has ended up in that situation." 

In a statement to Premier, a Church of England spokesperson said: “Churches welcome all people and celebrate with those who choose to make a commitment to Christ, but of course there is also a need for discernment. 

“Just as Jesus advised his disciples to be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’, clergy must be confident that those seeking baptism fully understand what it signifies, as an unrepeatable sacramental act of initiation which ushers an individual into the Church.

“However it is not the role of clergy to establish the legitimacy of asylum claims and to assess security implications.

“We are not aware of any evidence to suggest a widespread correlation between conversion to Christianity, or any other faith, and abuse of the asylum system.”

Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne, who is a Christian told Premier that it is possible some asylum seekers are exploiting the system in an attempt to strengthen their case to remain in the country.

“I think it's very reprehensible if that is the case and it would appear that there's evidence to suggest that it is the case, that there do seem to be a large number of conversions among asylum seekers.

"Now that might be down to the fact that the organisations that nurture asylum seekers are largely faith-based organisations, often Christian churches. It might well be an explanation for the fact that people convert, equally, it might be that by converting, you do cut yourself off from returning to countries where apostasy as they would call it is treated with a death sentence. So it would be a way of persuading the process of awarding asylum that you have to be afforded it. I think that's something we certainly want to get to the bottom of.

“What is one of the most frustrating things about our system is that applicants can appeal and appeal and appeal, secure in the knowledge that once they've got here, it is very, very difficult to remove them. I think we do have to move to a system on the same basis as Australia has done to actually do the processing elsewhere, because people are clearly receiving the message that if you can get here, it's very, very difficult for you to be removed and therefore very unlikely that you will be removed, even if your application is found to be wanting.

“I think a measure of due diligence is clearly appropriate. But nevertheless, it's totally appropriate for Christians to preach the Gospel and convert people to believe in the Gospel and that's right and proper, but it should not be done as a means of acquiring residency in the United Kingdom. It should be done for acquiring residency in the kingdom of God.”

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