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Concerns raised over church leaders facilitating migrants’ fake Christian conversion claims to stay in UK

Migrant with sexual assault offenses and suspect in chemical attack allowed asylum after conversion claim

The Lampedusa Cross stands on the Alter at Coventry Cathedral on May 21, 2021, in Coventry, England. 'The Lampedusa Cross' is made from the remnants of a refugee boat wrecked near the Italian island of Lampedusa where 311 lives were lost.
The Lampedusa Cross stands on the Alter at Coventry Cathedral on May 21, 2021, in Coventry, England. "The Lampedusa Cross" is made from the remnants of a refugee boat wrecked near the Italian island of Lampedusa where 311 lives were lost. | Darren Staples/Getty Images

Concerns are escalating in the U.K. over the authenticity of asylum seekers’ claims of converting to Christianity, with a notable case involving migrants on the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset. Reports indicate that a significant number of migrants housed on the barge are attending church services, sparking a debate on the credibility of such conversions for asylum claims.

The issue gained attention following the case of Abdul Shokoor Ezedi, a migrant from Afghanistan linked to the Clapham chemical attack in southwest London last Wednesday, who was granted asylum after converting to Christianity despite prior convictions for sexual offenses.

Nearly 40 out of 300 migrants on the Bibby Stockholm are participating in Christian practices, guided by local faith leaders, according to The Telegraph, adding that Home Secretary James Cleverly is set to review a report on Ezedi’s case, amid suggestions of tightening the scrutiny of conversion claims by asylum seekers.

Ezedi remains at large after the attack that resulted in severe injuries to a woman and her children. He had claimed his conversion to Christianity placed him at risk in Afghanistan. His claim was supported by a priest at his asylum appeal, despite the Home Office’s initial refusal. The case has raised questions about the role of U.K. churches in endorsing migrants’ conversion stories, with some officials expressing skepticism about the genuineness of these conversions.

However, David Rees, a church elder, told the BBC that the conversions on the Bibby Stockholm were sincere, emphasizing the rigorous process involving public testimony and baptism. Concerns still persist about the exploitation of religious conversion claims, with calls for more stringent verification processes.

The Home Office asserts that its caseworkers are equipped to assess the credibility of religious conversion claims, with a comprehensive evaluation approach. Despite these measures, the tribunal favored Ezedi’s appeal, citing the risk of persecution he would face as a convert if returned to Afghanistan. The decision has sparked a debate on the effectiveness of current guidelines and the need for legal adjustments to prevent abuse of the asylum system.

In an opinion piece for The Telegraph, Suella Braverman, who was Home Secretary until November 2023, criticizes the exploitation of the U.K.’s asylum system, including the manipulation of religious conversion claims.

“For years, I defended the Home Office in immigration cases as a barrister and saw the reality of our broken asylum system. Then, it was sham marriages and bogus colleges that allowed migrants to game our system,” she writes. “But, as Home Secretary, I saw how the racketeering has continued, and expanded in myriad ways.”

She adds, “Today, it is adults claiming to be children, Muslims pretending to be Christians, heterosexuals feigning homosexuality, healthy people alleging mental illness, economic migrants impersonating refugees fleeing persecution, those who have chosen to come here arguing that they have been trafficked as slaves, or those masquerading as political dissidents.”

Braverman argues for a reevaluation of the U.K.’s adherence to international human rights laws, suggesting that these frameworks hinder the government’s ability to control immigration effectively. Her commentary reflects a frustration with the current state of the U.K.’s border control and immigration policies, advocating for more decisive action to address these challenges.

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