Make church checks on asylum seekers as rigorous as school applications, say MPs

Abdul Ezedi was granted asylum after he claimed to have converted to Christianity
Abdul Ezedi was granted asylum after he claimed to have converted to Christianity - Metropolitan Police/PA Media

Churches must conduct checks on asylum seekers that are as rigorous as those for school applications in order to protect against scam conversions, senior MPs have said.

‌Tim Loughton, a former minister and member of the home affairs committee, said churches should overhaul their rules to require asylum seekers wanting to convert to attend services for at least six months before they are considered for baptism.

‌He said Church of England guidance on migrants seeking to convert was weighted too much towards helping them make their asylum claim more “credible” rather than asking questions about whether it was genuine.

‌It is understood the home affairs committee is to investigate the role of churches in the asylum process after Abdul Ezedi, the Clapham chemical attack suspect, was granted asylum after claiming to have converted to Christianity, despite having two convictions in the UK for sex assault and indecent exposure.

‌Friends of Ezedi, an illegal migrant, told The Telegraph that he was a “good Muslim” who bought half a Halal sheep every fortnight despite his apparent conversion.

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, is reviewing the facts of the case to establish whether the law needs to be overhauled to prevent such abuses.

‌Mr Loughton said: “If you are trying to get your child into a good local Catholic school, you have to go through all sorts of hoops. You have to attend church on a regular basis and tick all sorts of boxes. People still game the system, but there is a much more robust management of the system to get into a church school.”

‌Catholic schools generally require a baptism certificate. Some demand that parents provide a certificate of Catholic practice as proof that they are a practising Catholic family. Typically this would require the child and parent to have attended Sunday Mass and holy days on obligation for the past five years. ‌

Mr Loughton said: “One of the suggestions is that there should be a six-month moratorium between someone arriving at the church and becoming part of the church.”

‌“There is nothing remotely like that in the Church of England guidance for dealing with asylum seeker conversions. It needs to set down some thresholds, targets and barriers that would give them greater satisfaction that this is a genuine person.”

Tim Loughton said the Church of England guidance ‘needs to set down some thresholds’
Tim Loughton said the Church of England guidance ‘needs to set down some thresholds’ - Richard Townshend

‌The demands come after The Telegraph revealed how judges have raised concerns that some “unquestioning” church leaders are being “duped” by insincere asylum seekers converting to Christianity to avoid deportation.

Immigration tribunal decisions show that the Home Office has repeatedly raised questions in court about the extent to which clergy are “probing” the true intentions of migrants seeking to convert from Islam to Christianity.

‌Migrants can claim asylum based on their conversion to a new religion if they face persecution in their home country because of their new faith. In some cases, religious ministers agree to support claims, as happened with Ezedi on his third asylum appeal.

‌At the weekend the Right Rev Guli Francis-Dehqani, the Bishop of Chelmsford, said the Church was willing to review its guidance for priests to see “if it can be enhanced” to guide clergy on dealing with asylum seekers who wish to be baptised.

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