The Church and asylum in the UK: ‘Pray to stay’

Photo: M. Hitchcott.

I have had cause previously to comment on the utter gullibility of some clergy and members of the laity in the Church, but here we have yet another classic case to support my claim. It has come to public attention this week in the UK that we now have some clergy enthusiastically enrolling asylum seekers onto Alpha Courses and Bible studies and overseeing ‘conversions’ that conveniently assist them with their asylum claims. And the examples in the press are only the ones we know about. What are the chances that the media have alighted on the only cases?

So how did this come to light?

Last Sunday, Remembrance Sunday, a young male asylum seeker ordered a taxi to take him to the Liverpool Women’s Hospital. On arrival, as the taxi pulled up at the front door of the hospital, a bomb he was carrying went off too early. The taxi caught fire and he died in the ensuing conflagration.

The powers-that-be have considered that he may have been planning to bomb the remembrance event taking place at that time at the Anglican cathedral not far away – with military veterans and civic dignitaries present as well as families.  Alternatively, we could just accept that he planned to blow up sick women, mothers and babies. Take your pick.

I won’t promote the cause of this specimen of alleged humanity by mentioning his name. Suffice to say, the bomber had lied about where he came from and about his nationality; he had engaged in changing his name; lodging multiple appeals and goodness knows what else, ever since being turned down for asylum in 2014. He had already been sectioned under the Mental Health Act for waving a knife around in public some time ago. I could go on.

But hey, guess what? Not long after his first claim to asylum was rejected, he decided to become a Christian. He turned up at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in 2015, attended a five-week Alpha Course and was confirmed in 2017. Pretty soon after that, they never saw him again. Let’s face it, once he had been confirmed and safely identified as a Christian convert, presumably clutching his certificate and a letter from a useful clergy person to wave at the Home Office, what would have been the point in hanging around? It is reported today that he was in daily attendance, all day, every day, at the city’s main mosque during the
month of Ramadan earlier this year and was seen praying with a fellow Muslim just a week ago. Go figure, folks. 

It now transpires that conversion to Christianity is a relatively widespread practice among asylum seekers. Traffickers are advising migrants to find a church and ‘convert’ as a means to ease their asylum cases through the system. Clergy have even been given guidance from the Church on how to ‘navigate the Home Office system’ in supporting applications for asylum. Apparently, asylum seekers, once ‘converted’, can use their new religious awakening as further evidence that they cannot return to their own country because they will be persecuted. Converting to Christianity can also be cited as evidence of an applicant’s success in integrating into Western society.

It seems that current and/or recent clergy at Liverpool Cathedral have been ‘converting’ and confirming asylum seekers on an industrial scale for some time. The figure in today’s press is around 200 such ‘conversions’ in two or three years. Naïve? Stupid? Gullible? Idiotic? Politically motivated?

Some clergy have expressed unease about this trend. The Rev Pete Wilcox, former Dean of Liverpool said, “I can’t think of a single example of somebody who already had British citizenship converting here with us from Islam to Christianity.”  You don’t say.  Mohammad Eghtedarian, a Muslim convert who was later ordained and served as a curate at Liverpool Cathedral, also warned that some of those converting were doing so in order to exploit the system.

Sam Ashworth-Hayes, director of studies at the Henry Jackson Society, accused the Church of England of being “hopelessly naïve”. He said: “We know that people are willing to lie to win asylum, up to and including faking religious conversions.….the Church of England has been hopelessly naïve in accepting so many converts from migrant backgrounds and so readily offering them support in their asylum applications.

“It’s one thing to offer a graceful welcome to those in need. It’s another to be taken for fools. When immigration tribunals are complaining about ‘improbably large’ numbers of converts and clergy publicly stating that people are pretending to convert to exploit the system, something is clearly going wrong.”

The Dean and Chapter of Liverpool Cathedral unsurprisingly insisted that they had developed “robust processes for discerning whether someone might be expressing a genuine commitment to faith”. Care to tell us what those processes are? And how many individuals have failed to reach the required pass mark? No, I thought not.

Did they not stop to wonder why so many young males of a certain religion and background were suddenly seeing the light? And why did they not consider what happened to all of these ‘converts’ once they had the paperwork and the clergy letter to the Home Office? Is Liverpool Cathedral now home to hundreds of regular young male attenders who were previously Muslim? 

There are only two options here, folks. Firstly, these clergy and laity are so gullible that they really do believe these claims to conversion. Or secondly, they don’t believe them but are happy to go along with the lies to support asylum claims based on these supposed conversions. Shall we take a vote on it? I don’t think either option is a happy one.

This is not the first time that the CofE has been shown to be involved in immigration scams. Back in 2008, it came to light that some clergy were carrying out sham weddings between UK or EU citizens and folks who wanted to gain the right to stay in the UK – many from Africa and Eastern Europe. Of course, the church denied that clergy would willingly do this. Yet in 2010 we saw the jailing of the Rev Alex Brown for doing just that. How many others were doing this and got away with it? Brown officiated at up to 360 sham marriages at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, between 2005 and 2009. This was described by an immigration official as ‘the biggest criminal conspiracy of its type ever seen in Britain.’ In some cases ceremonies were cancelled at short notice, only for the same person to return again with a different partner to ‘marry’ just days later.

Today it is no longer sham marriages but sham conversions. Just how dumb do church people have to be to engage in this stuff?

The Archbishop of Canterbury (who else?) has called for Britain to be “generous” to migrants fleeing conflict and remember Jesus was a refugee. How about also calling for clergy and others to engage their brains before accepting everything they are told? And while we’re on the case of Jesus being a refugee (taken to Egypt as a baby to flee a death sentence from Herod), let’s not forget that Joseph, Mary and Jesus went home to Judea at the earliest opportunity. Funny how we never get to hear about that part of Jesus’ ‘refugee experience’, isn’t it?

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Tuesday: “…you don’t think that this kind of awful future might lie in store. We pray for everybody that we confirm and welcome, and one of the things we pray for them is that they will grow up in holiness and wisdom. Sadly, in this man’s case that does not seem to have happened.” 

Ben Ryan, the CofE’s home affairs adviser, said ‘there is no evidence this practise [fake conversions] is commonly accepted by either the Church or the Home Office, or even that this practice is remotely widespread.’ 

Well, Ben, can you please tell us just what research you have done into this? Has the Church looked for evidence? I think we may be pretty sure this is going on in other towns and cities with asylum seeker populations.

And let’s think for a moment about the behaviour of the Church media bunnies in this context. If clergy truly believe they are seeing vast numbers of young male Muslims turning to Christianity, why have we not heard about it before now? Isn’t it a major success story for the Church? Why has this ‘revival’ among asylum seekers not been the subject of press releases, media attention, interviews on the news, and general publicity? I am at a loss to understand how, if all these conversions have been genuine, the success of the Church has not been shouted from the rooftops. Assorted bishops and deans are never slow to shout about other successes with the disadvantaged and downtrodden, are they? Especially if it boosts left-wing ideals.

Could it be because those clergy involved in this ‘trade’ have known all along that there is something distinctly fishy about it and don’t want to talk about it publicly? Have they chased up all of these new converts once they have disappeared? No? What about their duty of pastoral care? Gone with the wind, rather like the converted, by the sounds of it.

So here we are again. The gullibility of our church leaders on show for the world to laugh at. And, let’s not forget, the gullibility of so many pew-fillers.  Talk about bringing the faith into disrepute.

One of the problems here is the wholesale refusal of gullible western minds to recognize that the rest of the world does not always hold to the same values that we do. For many who want to come here to access the benefits of western living, it is common practice to lie and cheat to achieve the desired end. Why are we surprised? I have worked in, and with folks from, many Middle Eastern and North African and sub-Saharan countries. I long ago lost count of the numbers who told me laughingly how dumb westerners are and how easy to convince of any old story. Our western hospitality is seen as a weakness to be exploited. Of course we must have an asylum system and be a place of refuge. But we must equally use our brains.

Yet so many credulous Christians are queuing up to be duped under the guise of faith. It is no doubt stated, in churches seeing these dubious conversions, that to doubt the word of the victim, sorry, asylum seeker, is to ‘deny him his truth’ and to subject him to racism.

Just how many other churches in places with large numbers of asylum seekers are also engaged in this business? I don’t doubt that some conversions are genuine, but to ask us to accept that hundreds of Muslim young men are suddenly becoming Christian when their asylum claims need a boost, is pushing credulity beyond its limits.

‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’  Matt 10.16

Some hope.

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