The Church of England has denied allegations that it facilitated “fake conversions” among asylum seekers, stating that parish records disprove these claims. This comes after a recent controversy surrounding the case of Abdul Ezedi, an Afghan man suspected of a chemical attack in Clapham, who was granted asylum on his third attempt after converting to Christianity. Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman accused churches of aiding “industrial-scale bogus asylum claims”, while former Conservative Party chairman Lee Anderson claimed that the Church of England encouraged people to lie about their faith for asylum purposes. A former C of E priest also alleged that the church was complicit in a “conveyor belt and veritable industry of asylum baptisms”. However, the bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, dismissed these claims as unfounded, stating that only 15 people, who may have been asylum seekers, were baptized in his parish over the past decade. The Church of England has consistently rejected accusations of complicity in “fake conversions” from Islam to Christianity among asylum seekers from Iran and Afghanistan.
In response to these allegations, Guli Francis-Dehqani, the bishop of Chelmsford and a refugee from Iran, defended the church’s involvement in supporting vulnerable individuals. However, she emphasized that churches have no power to bypass the government’s responsibility to vet and approve asylum applications, which rests with the Home Office. She also clarified that clergy occasionally provide statements of support after careful assessment, but this should not be seen as a shortcut through the asylum system. The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, expressed disappointment at the mischaracterization of the role of churches and faith groups in the asylum system, stating that their duty is to follow biblical teachings and care for strangers, while it is the government’s responsibility to protect borders and the courts’ responsibility to judge asylum cases. The bishop of Blackburn, Philip North, echoed these sentiments, emphasizing that the church is not the authority on asylum and that the government should not outsource responsibility for a failing asylum system to the church.
The Church of England provides guidance to clergy on supporting asylum applications, which includes requirements for evidence of Christian faith, such as church attendance, a baptism certificate, and records of behavioral changes. Those seeking baptism are usually asked to attend a weekly Bible study and a preparation session to ensure their understanding of the sacramental act. The guidance cites the example of St Stephen’s with St Paul’s church in Nottingham, where the vicar has baptized approximately 26 asylum seekers each year, with baptisms held twice a year to allow sufficient time for candidates to be known and their commitment to following Jesus to be assessed. In a recent case, 40 refugees housed on a barge in Dorset were attending local churches in preparation for Christian baptism, with an elder from Weymouth Baptist church emphasizing the importance of their belief in Jesus, repentance of sins, and desire for a new life in the church.
Home Secretary James Cleverly has ordered an investigation into how the asylum system handles migrants who have converted to Christianity.