The Church of England has warned that hundreds of migrants are exploiting a loophole where they convert to Christianity in a bid to avoid being deported to Iran.
In Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral alone more than 200 Iranians have recently converted from Islam to Christianity. This move, said the Very Reverend Dr Peter Wilcox, who is Dean of Liverpool Cathedral “can significantly enhance” the prospects of migrants gaining “refugee” status.
Once converted, the migrants argue that as Christians they would be persecuted and subjected to torture if they return to Iran. In order to convert to Christianity migrants need only attend a five-week baptism course. Tellingly, Dr. Wilcox told The Sunday Times he cannot “think of a single example of somebody who already had British citizenship converting here with us from Islam to Christianity”.
The Church of England (CoE) Dean acknowledged that “mixed motives are not unheard of,” comparing their conversions to how some parents will baptise their children to boost their chances to get a place at desirable church schools:
“God alone knows the person’s heart and we try to be consistent about that and not to set the bar at one height for middle-class aspiring parents seeking the best for the education of their children and the bar at another height for converts from Islam looking for asylum.
“Refuse Jemima baptism and she goes to school somewhere else. Refuse Mohammed baptism and he gets deported.”
Dr Wilcox continued: “Holding a baptism certificate significantly enhances the strength of their claim for asylum.
“Once you are a baptised Christian it is really not conceivable that you would be deported to a Muslim country.” Immigration judges would take into account a priest’s covering letter giving more information about the asylum seeker’s participation in Christian worship and service.
Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral is just the tip of the iceberg. Muslims have reportedly been converting in many UK towns and cities such as Stockton-on-Tees, Newcastle and Wakefield in Yorkshire. There have also been mass baptisms in Germany, of mainly Iranians hoping not to be sent back to Iran.
Vicar of All Saints’ Church in Liverpool, Mike Coates, said about 50 Muslim migrants hoping to stay in Britain recently converted at his church. When contacted by the UK Border Agency, who asked him to check on individual asylum seekers, Reverend Coates insisted he told them: “We will not lie for you”.
At the small, relatively new, Elim Pentecostal Church in Liverpool, 300 Muslims have been baptised. Over 100 of these migrants so far have used their new “faith” to stay in the UK. The Evangelical church’s website states: “Our church family come from a wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities which reflect the community which we love and reach out to. Just as Jesus reached out and gave value and love to so many, our desire is to do the same.”
The Reverend Lionel Canter, who is pioneering an “Iranian Church” in Liverpool, said: “I can understand people questioning how genuine it is because they can be integral to being able to stay in the country. It’s a valid question.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “A document such as a baptism certificate would not automatically lead to a conversion claim being accepted as genuine but is given appropriate weight when considering all the evidence.”