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Church under fire for helping asylum seekers to ‘game’ system

Questions over refugees changing religion to avoid being deported in wake of Liverpool suicide bomb

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The Church of England was last night facing questions over its role in converting hundreds of asylum seekers — including the Liverpool suicide bomber — to Christianity, in an attempt to help them avoid deportation.

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Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is understood to be appalled at the “merry-go-round” of failed asylum seekers changing religion and using other tactics to launch “appeal after appeal” to stay in the country.

The Iraqi man killed in the abortive suicide bomb attack outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital is understood to have been helped by the Church in his attempts to avoid being kicked out of Britain after his claim for asylum was first rejected in 2014.

The Home Office believes changing religion is now “standard practice” among asylum seekers from countries including Iraq “to game the asylum system,” as converts claim they are at risk of persecution in their home countries.

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The Daily Telegraph has established that after his initial application was rejected in 2014, Emad al-Swealmeen, 32, converted to Christianity on a five-week course in an attempt to persuade officials to let him stay in the U.K.

He then launched “appeal, after appeal, after appeal” to frustrate the system and even had a legal challenge pending when he launched his terror attack on Remembrance Sunday.

Thousands of asylum seekers have been welcomed into the Anglican faith in recent years, with clergy even provided with written guidance on how to navigate the Home Office system.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has called for Britain to be “generous” to migrants fleeing conflict and remember Jesus was a refugee.

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Conservative Party member of parliament Priti Patel speaks at a fringe event hosted by the Brexit Central website in Birmingham, on September 30, 2018 on the first day of the Conservative Party Conference 2018.
Conservative Party member of parliament Priti Patel speaks at a fringe event hosted by the Brexit Central website in Birmingham, on September 30, 2018 on the first day of the Conservative Party Conference 2018. Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP /Getty

Last night Ms Patel hit out at the way asylum seekers and their lawyers were taking the British taxpayers “for a ride” by deliberately frustrating the system in order to remain in the UK.

She said: “It’s a complete merry-go-round. And it’s been exploited. It has been exploited, quite frankly, by a whole professional legal services industry that has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day in, day out at the expense of the taxpayers through legal aid.”

At Liverpool Cathedral, where Swealmeen was confirmed in March 2017, a person can become a Christian in as little as five weeks, after completing a basic course.

Asylum applicants who can show they are practising Christians can argue that their faith will lead to them being persecuted if they are returned to their home country. Conversion can also be used as evidence of the applicant’s success in integrating into Western society.

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Writing in The Telegraph today, Tom Harris, the former Labour MP, says that for decades “optimistic asylum seekers have cited their newfound faith as a reason not to remove them to their intolerant home countries”.

Mr Harris writes: “A crucial piece of advice offered to many claimants by their traffickers was to get involved in a local church as soon as they made their initial asylum claim and were allocated their temporary accommodation.

A complete merry-go-round.

“A full-on conversion to Christianity was even better, though not always necessary.” Even members of the clergy involved in the process have acknowledged that not all those seeking to convert are genuine.

The year before Swealmeen converted, the Rev Pete Wilcox, a 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.”

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Mohammad Eghtedarian, himself 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.

He said: “I do understand there are a lot of mixed motives. There are many people abusing the system – I’m not ashamed of saying that.”

Detectives have said they are yet to establish a motive for the attack which took place a short distance from Liverpool Cathedral as a Remembrance Sunday service was being held, but they have not ruled out an Islamist ideology. A spokesman for the Church of England said: “Churches welcome all people and celebrate with those who choose to make a commitment to Christ, but of course there is also a need for discernment.

“We are not aware of any evidence to suggest a widespread correlation between conversion to Christianity, or any other faith, and abuse of the asylum system.”

Can’t think of a single example of somebody who already had British citizenship converting here with us

A spokesman for the cathedral added: “Liverpool Cathedral has developed robust processes for discerning whether someone might be expressing a genuine commitment to faith.

“These include requirements for regular attendance alongside taking part in a recognised Christian basics course.

“We would expect someone to be closely connected with the community for at least two years before we would consider supporting an application.”

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