Asylum report: inadequate assessment of religion-based claims

Can you name the twelve apostles? When is Pentecost? How many books are there in the Bible? Who betrayed Jesus to the Romans?

These are some of the questions asked of asylum-seekers during their interview with the Home Office as part of their application to stay in the UK. Whilst they may seem reasonable, a new report reveals that such questions, often referred to as “Bible trivia”, are a very poor way of assessing a conversion asylum claim and result in wrong decisions and expensive appeals.

An enquiry was set up to look at the quality of the assessment of religion-based asylum claims in the UK and the impact of the asylum procedure on the fairness and quality of decision-making.

Evidence was submitted to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Asylum Advocacy Group (AAG) by a wide range of stakeholders holding a broad spectrum of religious beliefs and no beliefs as well as asylum seekers; both those going through the judicial system and those who have been granted leave to stay in the UK.

Statements and claims from all parties were scrutinised alongside consideration of UK standards in light of international policy and law.

While the law is clear that religious persecution constitutes grounds for asylum, assessment of religion-based asylum applications is complex and challenging due to the inherently internal and personal nature of religion and belief. This is compounded by the fact that persecution on the basis of religion or belief encompasses a wide range of human rights violations and relates to complex dynamics of communal identities, politics, conflicts and radical organisations.

The most recent Home Office guidance on assessing credibility and refugee status from January (and March) 2015, does include more nuanced guidance regarding those seeking asylum on the basis of religious persecution.

Additionally, guidance pertaining to credibility is not always followed in practice. Further training is required to ensure that UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) decision-making is consistent with UKVI guidance. This report demonstrates that there is a disparity between Home Office policy guidelines and what is actually happening in practice.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The report concludes with recommendations to the Home Secretary that include:

  • Keep a record of the number of asylum claims made on the basis of religious persecution as well as the acceptance vs. rejection rate of such cases so as to assess the true scale of such claims and how sensitively such claims are being dealt with.
  • Provide focused training on freedom of religion or belief and assessments of religious freedom and persecution based asylum applications to decision-makers.
  • Ensure that the policy guidelines and judicial decisions that relate to freedom of religion or belief cases are used by decision-makers.
  • Ensure that the case workers and interpreters used by the Home Office and decision-makers uphold the same standards of professional conduct expected from Home Office staff.
  • Ensure that cases involving religious persecution are also checked by an expert supervisor to ensure consistency and due process in all cases.
  • Work with faith-communities and charities specialising in freedom of religion or belief to check credibility of applicants, and keep up to date information on global developments.
  • Ensure that applicants should not be caused unnecessary distress and should feel able to speak freely, especially in cases where the case worker/interpreter is a member of the religious community that has carried out the applicant’s persecution.
  • In cases where individuals have been granted asylum on grounds of religious persecution, the UK Home Office should fast-track dependents’ applications and visas for them to join the successful applicant. While it is of course welcome that dependents are permitted to settle outside the country in which they are persecuted, the current 3 – 6 month processing period of dependents’ applications is a time during which the applicants may also be at real risk of persecution.

Read the report in full

Read a summary

WRITTEN QUESTIONS

Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) (9 June)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what assessment she has made of the implications for the Government’s policy on asylum of the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, entitled Asylum report: inadequate assessment of religion-based claims, published in June 2016.

James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

We are currently carefully considering the report and its recommendations. The report acknowledges the progress made by the Home Office with regards to guidance and training provided to its staff but highlighted the Group’s view that there were some discrepancies between the Home Office policy and practice.

The Home Office carefully considers all asylum claims on their individual merits and grants protection for those who genuinely need it, in accordance with our international obligations under the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In every asylum case the particular circumstances of the individual are considered in light of published country information, which includes issues relating specifically to religious freedoms.

Published guidance on the interviewing and consideration of religious claims is regularly reviewed and takes into consideration the views of religious groups and other stakeholders.

All asylum decision makers are currently receiving credibility training. This course trains decision makers on how to assess the evidential value of their interview questions (including when assessing religious based claims and religious conversion), the various reasons why someone may not come across as credible in an asylum interview and discusses issues such as speculation and implausibility. The 5-week Foundation Training Programme (FTP) for new decision makers trains staff on all aspects of the asylum decision making process, including religious based claims and religious conversion has been endorsed by the UNHCR.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)[N] (13 June)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what steps her Department is taking to ensure that asylum caseworkers are trained to assess the claims of people who are seeking asylum on the grounds of persecution relating to religion or belief.

James Brokenshire

The Home Office carefully considers all asylum claims on their individual merits, including claims based on religious persecution. We grant protection to those who genuinely need it in accordance with our international obligations under the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Published guidance on the interviewing and consideration of asylum claims is regularly reviewed and takes into consideration the views of stakeholders, including religious groups. The current training and support available for asylum caseworkers includes a UNHCR endorsed Foundation Training Programme. This, and follow-on courses, covers all aspects of the asylum interview and decision making process, including the assessment of credibility and country information in religious based claims. Real-life case studies and role-play are used throughout the training programme to reinforce knowledge and understanding of the issues.

We are currently carefully considering the APPG report and its recommendations and will provide a response in due course.

“I can assure hon. Members that I and my officials take the findings in the all-party group’s report extremely seriously”  Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwill, 19 July

“In June 2016 The Home Office received the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion’s report, ‘Fleeing persecution: Asylum claims in the UK on religious freedom grounds’. We are carefully considering the report and its recommendations and will provide a response in due course, including whether we will consider whether any changes to the way we handle religious-based claims are appropriate.

The report acknowledges the progress made by the Home Office with regards to guidance and training provided to its staff but highlighted the Group’s view that there were some discrepancies between the Home Office policy and practice.

The Home Office carefully considers all asylum claims on their individual merits and grants protection for those who genuinely need it, in accordance with our international obligations under the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In every asylum case the particular circumstances of the individual are considered in light of published country information, which includes issues relating specifically to religious freedoms.

Published guidance on the interviewing and consideration of religious claims is regularly reviewed and takes into consideration the views of religious groups and other stakeholders.”  

Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwill,
21 July 2016. 

MEDIA COVERAGE

BBC TV News Asylum claims from Christian converts ‘being rejected’
BBC News Are Christian converts seeking asylum getting a raw deal?
BBC Radio 4 Sunday (begins 26:20)
The Telegraph Asylum claims from Christian converts being rejected if they cannot recite the Ten Commandments
The Independent Christian convert asylum seekers ‘asked to name colour of Bible cover’ as MPs warn claims are assessed on ‘trivia’
The Guardian Refugees seeking asylum on religious grounds quizzed on ‘Bible trivia’
The Daily Mail: Officials are REJECTING asylum claims from Christian converts if they are unable to recite the Ten Commandments
Times Live (South Africa) Christian converts rejected
The Christian Times  Christian converts seeking asylum quizzed with Bible trivia in the U.K.
Christian Today Christian asylum seekers denied entry to UK if they cannot recite ten commandments   Home Office interpreters accused of deliberately jeopardising asylum claims
Premier  Home Office urged to change asylum process for Christian converts
Pakistan Christian Post  Converts to Christianity seeking asylum in the UK rejected on very spurious grounds
Christianity Today  Can You Name All Ten Commandments? If Not, This (and 18 Other Questions) Could Get You Deported
The Christian Institute  Parliamentary group: ‘Govt’s religious literacy is lacking’
The Blaze  If You’re a Christian Convert Seeking Asylum in the UK, You Might Want to Brush Up on Your Bible Trivia
CrossMap  UK Asylum Claims From Christian Converts Being Rejected If They Cannot Recite The Ten Commandments
Christianity Daily  Christian Asylum Seekers Rejected if Not Well Versed with Bible Trivia
Independent Catholic News  House of Lords launch report on religion-based asylum application process
Christian Examiner   No fake Christian refuges: UK tests asylum seekers
Huffington Post  Refugees Seeking U.K. Asylum May Be Thwarted By Religious Bias





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