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01 September 2007

Alliance speaks up for asylum seekers

Alliance speaks up for asylum seekers

The Home Office is under pressure to change the way that Christian asylum seekers are treated, following the launch of an Alliance report in July that condemned what it called "ludicrous questioning" by immigration officials. The report found evidence of inappropriate questioning, translation problems and a lack of knowledge about which countries are dangerous for Christian converts.

According to the findings of the report, one Christian asylum seeker from Cardiff was asked, "How do you prepare a turkey for Christmas?" as evidence of religious faith.

"Admitting conversion will result in imprisonment or the death penalty in countries like Iran and Afghanistan"

Other questions included, "Identify the forbidden fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden" (although it is commonly thought to be an apple, the Bible doesn't name the fruit); "Name the thieves crucified on either side of Jesus" (they are not named in the Bible); and "What will happen around the world in the second coming?"

An Afghan Christian convert was told that he had "demonstrated a limited knowledge of Christian beliefs" when questioned at interview, in spite of being able to list all 12 apostles. The only question he couldn't answer was the name of the period of time before Christmas. (That would be Advent.)

An Iranian woman convert, who had fled her home country to join her husband, had her application turned down because the judge in the case did not believe that she was a Christian. She had been asked questions such as, "What does the Christmas tree symbolise?" and, "How many books are in the Bible?"

The report added that it is currently unsafe for Christians to evangelise in many countries, and even being known as a Christian convert can lead to imprisonment or death. The countries of particular concern in the report include Iran and Afghanistan.

Fear and trepidation

The Alliance's parliamentary officer, Gareth Wallace, said, "The stories we were told of Christian asylum seekers and their experience of the asylum process give an indication of the fear and trepidation with which they apply for asylum in the UK, knowing that admitting conversion will result in imprisonment or the death penalty in countries like Iran and Afghanistan."

He goes on to note that "many are new Christians, with limited knowledge of the Bible and even less of British religious traditions. Given the stress they are under, it is entirely understandable that they struggle to give the right answer when met with a long list of questions - in some cases 50 or 60 - about their new Christian faith." The

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes said, "When interviewing those who have converted from one faith to another, immigration case workers need to be as sensitive about faith as they are about gender. This is an issue that won't go away, and MPs need to be better informed on all its implications and I am sure this report will be a useful aid."

The Alliance held a conference in the House of Lords prior to the report's launch and supported a petition to Downing Street appealing for an Iranian Christian asylum seeker not to be deported back to Iran. Samar (pictured) fled Iran for Britain three years ago, converting to Christianity and leaving behind her the threat of a forced marriage. But her appeal for asylum was turned down.

Samar (29) was due to be deported on 18 July. But this was deferred when Gordon Brown was asked by Ann Widdecombe MP during Prime Minister's Questions to look into Samar's case. He said he would look into her case "in detail immediately". The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott- Joynt, who has also been fighting Samar's case, said that the Government had "underestimated the danger" that she faced if returned to Iran.

Report by Hazel Southam

Read the Full Alltogther for Asylum Justice

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