A “conveyor belt of fake conversions” is helping “bogus” asylum seekers claim the right to stay in the UK at an “industrial scale”, facilitated by the Church of England, Britain’s former Home Secretary has claimed.
But church leaders have rejected the “irresponsible and inaccurate” allegations, while also insisting they make “no apology” for “supporting people who are often deeply vulnerable and traumatised”.
The church’s role in the asylum process has come under fire over the past week after it emerged that Abdul Ezedi, who attacked a woman and her two young children with a caustic substance in London’s Clapham earlier this month, had been granted asylum in 2021 despite being a convicted sex offender, in part because a priest vouched for his conversion to Christianity.
Ezedi, 35, who was last seen in security camera footage with severe damage to the right side of his face after the horrific incident, sparked a week-long manhunt before police on Friday announced they believed he had likely drowned after throwing himself into the River Thames.
Originally from Afghanistan, Ezedi illegally entered Britain on the back of a truck in 2016 and in 2018 was found guilty of a sex offence. He was then twice refused asylum before finally being granted the right to stay, after a priest argued he was “wholly committed” to his new religion.
The revelation sparked fury from British MPs and demands for answers from the Home Office as to why Ezedi had not been deported earlier.
Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who was sacked by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in November, wrote in The Telegraph last week she had witnessed the “racketeering” of the asylum system in myriad ways including “adults claiming to be children, Muslims pretending to be Christians, heterosexuals feigning homosexuality”.
“Take the church as an example. While at the Home Office, I became aware of churches around the country facilitating industrial-scale bogus asylum claims,” she said.
“They are well-known within the migrant communities and, upon arrival in the UK, migrants are directed to these churches as a one-stop shop to bolster their asylum case. Attend Mass once a week for a few months, befriend the vicar, get your baptism date in the diary and, bingo, you’ll be signed off by a member of the clergy that you’re now a God-fearing Christian who will face certain persecution if removed to your Islamic country of origin.”
Ms Braverman said Britain “must get wise to the problem”.
“It is no wonder that the former dean of Liverpool Cathedral noted that he converted about 200 asylum seekers to Christianity over a four-year period — but he doesn’t recall baptising any Muslim who was already a British citizen,” she said.
In response to Ms Braverman’s opinion piece, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, the Bishop of Chelmsford and an Iranian refugee, wrote this week that “as a Christian leader I make no apology for our involvement in supporting people who are often deeply vulnerable and traumatised”.
“But churches have no power to circumvent the government’s duty to vet and approve applications — the responsibility for this rests with the Home Office,” she wrote in The Telegraph.
“[Clergy] will occasionally, after careful assessment, provide statements of support to individuals seeking asylum, but it is wrong to think of this as some sort of magic ticket. The notion that a person may be fast-tracked through the asylum system, aided and abetted by the church, is simply inaccurate.”
On Sunday, the UK’s The Daily Mail reported that more than 300 migrants had lodged appeals with an immigration tribunal on the basis of having converted to Christianity.
Among those were a 45-year-old Iranian pedophile, who has fought a 14-year asylum battle and has been described as a “danger to the community”.
The Mail on Sunday reports the sex offender was baptised just 11 days before he lodged his latest legal appeal to stay in Britain, and claims he cannot be deported because he is tattooed with a cross.
Following reports that 40 men on the Bibby Stockholm barge, a “floating prison” housing asylum seekers off the southwest English coast, were being baptised, current Home Secretary James Cleverly ordered an investigation of how the asylum system deals with migrants who have converted to Christianity.
Sussex MP Tim Loughton asked Mr Sunak about the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament on Wednesday, noting that “the Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that since taking office, the attendance at the Church of England has dropped by 15 per cent and in the 10 years to Covid, the number of baptisms in the Church of England has fallen from 140,000-a-year to 87,000”.
“So Christianity in the UK seems to be on the wane unless apparently, you are from a Muslim country in the middle of an asylum claim. We’re now told one in seven occupants of the Bibby Stockholm have suddenly become practising Christians,” Mr Loughton said.
“Can I ask the Prime Minister that given that the Church of England has now issued secret guidance for clergy supporting asylum applications for these Damascene conversions, who is the church accountable to and are taxpayers being scammed by the Archbishop?”
Mr Sunak replied that Mr Cleverly had requested more information on asylum seekers converting to Christianity.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said in a statement on Wednesday in response to the Prime Minister’s Questions that it had “been disappointing to see the mischaracterisation of the role of churches and faith groups in the asylum system”.
“Churches up and down the country are involved in caring for vulnerable people from all backgrounds. For refugees and those seeking asylum, we simply follow the teaching of the Bible which is to care for the stranger,” he said.
“It is the job of the government to protect our borders and of the courts to judge asylum cases. The church is called to love mercy and do justice. I encourage everyone to avoid irresponsible and inaccurate comments — and let us not forget that at the heart of this conversation are vulnerable people whose lives are precious in the sight of God.”
Ross Clark, columnist with The Sun, wrote last week that the church was allowing itself to be “hoodwinked” by bogus asylum seekers.
“The case of Ezedi is no one-off,” Clark said.
“Emad al Swealmeen, who blew himself up outside a Liverpool hospital on Remembrance Sunday in 2021 — fortunately killing only himself — had tried the same wheeze, joining a course at Liverpool Cathedral and eventually getting himself confirmed, all the while continuing to attend a mosque.”
He said the raft of conversions suggested either the Church of England “has somehow managed to develop a pull which is not otherwise immediately obvious when surveying its largely empty pews”, or Ms Braverman was correct.
“Church leaders may think they are being moral when they condemn government policy on illegal migration and when they speak up for asylum applicants who have come to their churches feigning a desire to convert to Christianity,” Clark said.
“But there is nothing ethical in sheltering people that a few inquiries about would indicate are trying to cheat the asylum system — and who in some cases are criminals and terrorists exploiting our asylum system.”