News from Europe

Bishop says: A ‘small number’ of asylum seeker conversions might be scam

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr. Guli Francis-Dehqani, who is a former refugee from Iran, gave an interview on the BBC Sunday Programme in relation to claims that the Church of England is encouraging asylum seekers to lie about their faith in order to gain entry to the UK.

Bishop Francis-Dehqani stated that the lead time for baptism was “very rigorous” and that some people even leave it because it takes too long: “We take seriously our responsibilities, but we also know that as Christians, our primary responsibility is one of welcome and hospitality and support and teaching, but we need to do that in a way that is that is wise and, and is aware that occasionally there are people who might try and scam us. Preparation is in most cases very rigorous and that’s right and proper. I think, God forbid, you do take that seriously regardless of where people are coming from. It’s just that in the end, it’s impossible to prove 100 per cent. But we do have this guidance and we do make it very clear that clergy must be as confident as they possibly can be that those seeking baptism fully understand what it signifies. As we’ve heard already, some people fall away from the system if they are trying to scam it because they realise it’s taking longer than they would ideally like.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury also disputes recent allegations that the Church of England operates a “conveyor belt for asylum seeker fake conversions”. Justin Welby expressed his dismay in a social media post: “Over the last week it has 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. 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.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed that the Home Office will investigate the role religious conversions play in asylum seekers’ applications.

The Religious Media Centre featuring Christian leaders organised a discussion event on Thursday. The town of Loughton urged churches to develop guidance on how to evaluate the legitimacy of a conversion claim.



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