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Christian convert asylum seekers 'asked to name colour of Bible cover' as MPs warn claims are assessed on 'trivia'

All-party religious freedom group blames a 'lack of understanding of religion and belief' for the wrong people being rejected

Oliver Wright
Political Editor
Monday 06 June 2016 12:01 BST
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MPs say some people could be deported when they are at genuine risk of persecution
MPs say some people could be deported when they are at genuine risk of persecution (Getty Images)

Christian converts seeking asylum in the UK are having their claims assessed on the basis of their ability to recite “Bible trivia”, MPs have warned.

The all-party parliamentary group on international religious freedom said asylum claims being made by Christians were being dealt with unfairly by officials.

They blamed a "lack of understanding of religion and belief" for the wrong people being rejected and said some people could be deported when they were at genuine risk of persecution.

One Iranian asylum seeker – who had converted to Christianity – had his claim rejected following his asylum interview.

"One question they asked me was very strange: what colour was the cover of the Bible," he told the BBC.

"I knew there were different colours. The one I had was red. They asked me questions I was not able to answer – for example, what are the Ten Commandments. I could not name them all from memory."

Baroness Berridge, who lead the all-party group's inquiry, said that non-Christians could learn such Bible trivia while genuine converts might be rejected.

"The problem with those questions is that if you are not genuine you can learn the answers, and if you are genuine, you may not know the answers," she said. "When the system did move on to ask about the lived reality of people's faith, we then found that caseworkers, who are making decisions which can be life or death for people, were not properly supported and trained properly."

Asylum seekers in UK struggle to build new lives

There are no official figures on asylum claims on religious grounds but evidence suggests the majority are former Muslims who have turned to Christianity. The number of such claims has risen in recent years.

Rev Mark Miller, who has a congregation of Iranian converts in Stockton-on-Tees, has advised the Home Office on how to handle such claims. Many of his congregation will have first experienced the faith in secret meetings in private homes.

"The asylum assessors have a real challenge on their hands," he said. "If you've come to faith in an underground house church, where you've been able to borrow a New Testament for a week and have encountered the risen Lord Jesus, you're not going to know when the date of Pentecost is.

"They should be trying to understand the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge," he says.

"They should be asking questions that help them to understand why someone has left behind the faith of their upbringing and the faith of their family."

The Home Office said it would assess the parliamentary group’s report. It said guidance to assessors is regularly reviewed to take into account the views of religious groups.

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