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Home Secretary holds meeting to discuss asylum for kidnapped teenage Christian convert

by Cara Bentley
Maria Shahbaz.JPG - Banner image

The Home Secretary is meeting the Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh to discuss the future of a kidnapped Christian girl in Pakistan in what Priti Patel labelled a "harrowing case". 

Maira Shahbaz, 14, was abducted close to her home in April 2020 and she later told police how she was forced to convert to Islam and marry her abductor, whom she alleges blackmailed her after filming her being gang-raped.

In August, she escaped her abductor who responded by accusing her of apostasy.

Church leaders, friends of hers in Pakistan, legal advisors and advocates have told the religious freedom charity Aid to the Church in Need that the teenager and her family have been receiving constant threats since she ran away and that suspicious people had been reported going house to house, demanding to know their whereabouts.

Given the danger she is said to be in, many religious freedom groups and politicians have pleaded for her to be offered safe asylum in the UK. Similar arguments were made at the time of Asia Bibi's case, a Pakistani woman who was accused of blasphemy against Islam. 

Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro who wrote the Truro report into the response of the UK Foreign Office to Christian persecution, said: "Tragic cases like that of Maira Shahbaz are a test case for the UK Government's commitment to put freedom and religion front and centre in its foreign policy."

On Monday, Sir Edward Leigh MP confirmed that he had secured a meeting with the Home Secretary on the matter, saying: "I thank the Home Secretary for fulfilling her pledge on the Floor of the House to meet Aid to the Church in Need and myself tomorrow to discuss the case of Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian girl who was abducted, kidnapped, and forced into hiding. I do not want the Home Secretary to comment on that case, but does this not make it even more important that we deal with illegal migration? If we do not do so, we cannot deal better with genuine asylum seekers. Indeed, for every illegal we deport, we should accept a genuine asylum seeker."


Priti Patel replied: "I look forward to the discussion that we will have tomorrow. This is a very harrowing case and I have been following the details of it for some time. Although we will discuss the matter tomorrow, my right hon. Friend is speaking to the fact that our asylum system is completely broken. We are seeing too many abuses of the system and vulnerable people being preyed on, and that scuppers our ability to assist those who are fleeing persecution and having the most appalling and abhorrent acts forced on them or taken against them. 

"That is why the Nationality and Borders Bill is so important. I urge all colleagues in the House to work with us and support the Bill as it comes to Second Reading next week."

The meeting takes place later on Tuesday.

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