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
Comments
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

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.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in