Church of England Under Scrutiny for Converting Asylum Seekers Following Liverpool Bombing

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 11: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby speaks during a service to mark Armistice Day and the centenary of the burial of the unknown warrior at Westminster Abbey on November 11, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Jeremy Selwyn-WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Church of England has come under scrutiny in the wake of the Liverpool terror attack after it has emerged that the bomber had converted from Islam to Christianity in an apparent attempt to help him claim asylum in the UK.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Emad Al Swealmeen, who died in a blast outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital, was a failed asylum seeker who converted to Christianity at the Liverpool Cathedral.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev Paul Bayes, told The Telegraph that it is common practice for the church to inform migrants converting to Christianity that they should not “think it will make life any easier in an asylum-seeker tribunal”.

However, asylum seekers can claim that as a result of their newfound belief in Christ, they may be subject to persecution in their home countries. Asylum seekers can also use their conversion as evidence that they have assimilated into British society.

In 2014, Emad Al Swealmeen had his first asylum claim rejected. The would-be bomber proceeded to launch “appeal, after appeal” in order to prevent any deportation proceedings. He then underwent a five-week course to convert to Christianity — ultimately confirmed in Liverpool Cathedral in 2017 — to convince immigration authorities that he should be able to stay in the country.

A former curate at the Cathedral at the time of Al Swealmeen’s conversion, former Muslim Mohammad Eghtedarian said that he was aware of migrants attempting to cheat the system by converting to Christianity.

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

It is understood that the Church of England has welcomed thousands of asylum seekers into its flock in recent years, including both the Liverpool bomber and terrorist Khari Saadallah, who killed three people in a park in Reading last year.

The Anglican Church has been active in publicly supporting immigration to Britain, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby saying in 2018 that Britons should be “generous” in the face of mass migration and that the UK should welcome “strangers to our country”.

In September, twelve bishops in the Church penned an open letter in the left-wing Guardian newspaper, calling on the government not to turn back boats full of illegal migrants back to France, a safe and prosperous member of the European Union.

Following the revelation that Emad Al Swealmeen had converted to Christianity prior to the Remembrance Sunday attack, it has also emerged that people-smuggling gangs have been instructing illegal migrants that converting to Christianity will increase their odds of being granted asylum in the UK.

An advertisement posted on Instagram by a trafficking network seen by The Times said in Arabic that converting to Christianity will allow their asylum claims to go forward “in the shortest possible time with the lowest cost”.

Migrants exploiting the church has been a longstanding issue, with then-Dean of Liverpool the Very Rev Pete Wilcox admitting in 2016 that “mixed motives are not unheard of” in migrant conversions.

He went on to say that the same fervour for conversions was not present in Muslims who already attained British citizenship, saying: “I can’t think of a single example.”

A spokesman for the Church of England defended the practice of performing conversions for asylum seekers, arguing that churches should welcome all those who wish to make a “commitment to Christ”.

The spokesman went on to claim: “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.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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