Earlier this week, British officials refused to grant asylum to an Iranian man who had converted from from Islam to Christianity. The New York Times reports that the Home Office cited verses from the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Revelation in response to the man’s statement that he had converted to Christianity after learning it was a peaceful religion.
“I have seen quite a lot of cases where the Home Office does not believe that the person has not [sic] converted from Islam to Christianity, but I have never seen anything quite like this one,” said Colin Yeo, a lawyer who specializes in immigration.
The Iranian man filed his claim in 2016, and the government rejected it last Tuesday, according to the man’s caseworker, Nathan Stevens, who posted excerpts from the Home Office’s refusal letter on Twitter.
The Home Office cited various verses demonstrating violence, such as one from Leviticus that says, “You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you.” The refusal stated, “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge.”
Stevens described himself as “genuinely shocked” at the Hope Office’s response. In another tweet he asked, “Whatever your views on faith, how can a government official arbitrarily pick bits out of a holy book and then use them to trash someone’s heartfelt reason for coming to a personal decision to follow another faith?” The Church of England and immigration advocates have condemned the decision.
Whatever your views on faith, how can a government official arbitrarily pick bits out of a holy book and then use them to trash someone’s heartfelt reason for coming to a personal decision to follow another faith?
— Nathan Stevens (@nathestevens) March 19, 2019
The British Home Office is “the lead government department for immigration and passports, drugs policy, crime, fire, counter-terrorism and police.” It did verify that the letter was authentic. The New York Times reports that a spokesperson has responded to the incident, saying, “This letter is not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith.”
One of Many Blunders
The Independent reports that the British Home Office has come under criticism multiple times in the past year over how it has treated immigrants. In one instance, the Home Office stopped a U.S. citizen from visiting her daughter, who had a serious illness, and changed its verdict only 12 hours after the Independent reported on it. Another time, the government stopped an Amsterdam student from attending an academic conference. As before, the decision was changed after the incident got media attention. The Home Office threatened an Afghan man who had served in the British army, and officials also prevented a 6-year-old boy born in the U.K. from returning after he took a vacation in Brussels. In April 2018, in what was known as the Windrush scandal, the government wrongly revoked the rights of hundreds of its commonwealth citizens, deporting some of them.
Regarding the government’s recent asylum refusal, legal expert Conor James McKinney says that “The Home Office is notorious for coming up with any reason they can to refuse asylum and this looks like a particularly creative example, but not necessarily a systemic outbreak of anti-Christian sentiment in the department.”
Even Steven Evans, the CEO of the National Secular Society, thought the government’s denial of the man’s claim was “totally inappropriate.” In a tweet, Evans said, “Decisions on the merits of an asylum appeal should be based on an assessment of the facts at hand–and not on the state’s interpretation of any given religion.”
Totally inappropriate for @ukhomeoffice to play theologian. Decisions on the merits of an asylum appeal should be based on an assessment of the facts at hand – and not on the state’s interpretation of any given religion. https://t.co/jiuRcpqkag
— Stephen Evans (@Stephenmevans1) March 20, 2019
There’s Still Hope
There does seem to be hope for the Iranian asylum seeker. On March 22, Stevens tweeted that the Home Office withdrew its refusal and will reconsider the man’s application. Stevens called this “a good start” but says “more change is needed.”