Can you name the twelve apostles or when is Pentecost? How many books are 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) 2015,1 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.
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 and 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 and 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.