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Two tethered inflatable boats arrive on the shores of the United Kingdom filled with asylum seekers. Photo: video.

Britain debates asylum policy as Muslims claim conversion To Christianity

(ANALYSIS) The United Kingdom is facing a crisis of illegal immigration parallel to that of the U.S., with very high numbers of people coming over the border, reaching a record net high of 745,000 in 2022. Many arrive in small boats, usually from France. This difficult situation is now further complicated by allegations that many coming from Muslim-majority countries are falsely claiming to be converts to Christianity for asylum.

Many in the church cite the Bible to stress that Christians should welcome the needy and the stranger. The Bible wasn’t outlining a government policy for the 21st century, say others. Still, others agree with that overall stance but ask whether those arriving are truly the neediest, especially compared to those left behind, and whether simple proof texting is a sufficient basis for public policy.

As in the U.S., popular opinion rejects mass illegal immigration, perhaps sensing that you can have open borders or a serious welfare state — not both. President Biden is soon expected to issue an executive order on illegal immigration, perhaps in response to growing concern within his own party. Since he took office in 2021, 7 million immigants have crossed the border illeglly – more than the popoulation of 36 states.

As for the U.K., many are coming not directly from poor or war-torn countries, but from France. Since the U.K. has left the European Union, it can no longer return migrants to the E.U. country they first entered, something it had done legally and effectively in the recent past prior to Brexit.

In response it its immigration crisis, the British government plans to transfer to Rwanda those arriving in the U.K. illegally with no solid claim to remain, which policy has the agreement of Rwanda’s government. This proposal has produced criticism and may contravene the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the U.K. is still a party. In response, the government, led by the highly successful child of Indian immigrants Rishi Sunak, has said that the situation is sufficiently severe that, if necessary, it will depart from European jurisdiction as it departed from the EU.

In the midst of these dueling imperatives came the case of Abdul Shokoor Ezedi, a 2016 immigrant from Afghanistan. On Jan. 31, 2024, he met with a woman he knew in London and allegedly threw a corrosive alkali liquid on her and her daughters, ages eight and three. Later. he is believed to have jumped into the River Thames and has most likely drowned.

The attack is horrific enough, but Ezedi’s previous history compounded the outrage. He had twice been denied asylum and then in January 2018 was given a nine-week jail term suspended for two years for a charge of sexual assault. He was also given a suspended 36 weeks behind bars to be served consecutively for a charge of indecent exposure.

Subsequent to this, Ezedi then made a third attempt to gain asylum and was successful based on his claim that he had converted to Christianity and his life would be in danger if he was returned Afghanistan. There are reports that he was aided in this effort by support from clergy. In contrast, in the words of a friend of his, Ezedi had remained a “good Muslim” all along and was recently spotted buying halal meat.

Further compounding fears about false conversions were reports the following week that of the 300 migrants being housed on a barge off the Dorset coast, some 40 had converted to Christianity. This was met with worries that these were further attempts to game the asylum system.

However, local clergy — including a Farsi-speaking minister — insisted that the conversions were genuine, that several of those on the barge had already been Christians in their home country and that others had completed a 10-week Alpha course, a very widespread evangelistic outreach.

Dave Rees, an elder at Weymouth Baptist Church, told the BBC: “Obviously we need to make sure that they believe in Jesus, they believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they repent of their sins and also they want to start a new life in the church. … And they have to give a public testimony at their baptism, which they did.”

READ: Ugandan man hangs wife and children for accepting Christ

These events and other reports of miscreant migrant converts, including one who had attempted to bomb a women’s hospital in Liverpool, have created skepticism about conversions and to accusations that churches are too gullible or too political in their work with asylum-seekers.

Certainly, not all claimed conversions are genuine, and there are very different rates between those and those not facing deportation. But there are three grounds not to be too skeptical.

First, rates of conversions such as the 40 out of 300 on the Dorset barge, are not unusual, especially in close circumstances.

Also, there is a danger that genuine claimants may be rejected because U.K. asylum officers are often ill-equipped to deal with religious issues. In cases in which I have been involved, some officers have engaged in a Bible and theology quiz, which obviously has some validity, but 90% of the Christians in England, including some clergy and maybe a few bishops, could not answer their questions on Christology and soteriology.

In one case, an Egyptian Christian was asked (in Arabic translation) about the views of the Egyptian Coptic church. He replied haltingly and vaguely about Jesus’ one nature. The interviewer concluded that the claimant had little knowledge of Christianity but, in this case, the interviewer’s unfamiliarity with church history led to the confusion. As I read the transcript, it seemed that the applicant was alluding to the distinctive Christology of the Egyptian church (often mistakenly called “Monophysitism”) rejected by in the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451.

And we must always remember the danger to which genuine converts, and those held to be blasphemers or heretics, are subject. Among the usual suspects, this year Iran has intensified its arrests of converts, as has Mauritania, as does Sudan. In Afghanistan, the Taliban hunts down converts as reported in Metro Voice. In perhaps unexpected countries there is also great danger, such as Libya and Uganda.

No doubt there are those who falsely claim conversion from Islam to claim asylum, and some churches may be too credulous. But such conversions are occurring and such genuine converts face violence, imprisonment and even death if returned back to many countries.

– Paul Marshall is Wilson Distinguished Professor of Religious Freedom at the Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University, director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, and author of over 20 books on religion and politics. Reprinted from ReligionUnplugged with permission.


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