Church leaders accused of deliberately supporting conversion testimonies for asylum seekers wanting to take advantage of asylum status

By CDI Staff |
Christian man
A Christian man stands in a church sanctuary. | IMB

On January 31 in London, a young woman and her child were attacked with acid by an asylum seeker from Afghanistan. He was granted asylum status after a local priest supported his testimony of conversion to the Christian faith. Some British politicians have responded by accusing churches of helping migrants avoid deportation by deliberately fast-tracking conversions. 

“...[M]igrants are directed to these churches as a one-stop shop to bolster their asylum case,” explained former UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman in an interview with The Telegraph. “Attend mass once a week for a few months, befriend, the vicar, get your baptism date in the diary, and, bingo, you will be signed off by a member of the clergy that you are now a God-fearing Christian, who will face certain persecution if removed to your Islamic country of origin.”

Yet many church leaders see this differently. Bishop of Chelmsford Dr. Guli Francis-Dehqani explained that no one should view a baptism as a “magic ticket” to asylum. “The notion that a person may be fast-tracked through the asylum system, aided and abetted by the Church is simply inaccurate.”

She explained that it is “wrong” that attention is being diverted to “a very small number” of alleged abuses. “It’s diverting attention away from the systemic problems, which is that we have an immigration system that’s overwhelmed and inefficient.”

Danny Webster, director of advocacy of the Evangelical Alliance United Kingdom, encourages the church to use the allegations as a point of reflection. “I think unjustified accusations of collusion is not a charge that can be ignored,” he writes in an Op-Ed for Evangelical Focus.  “Church leaders should use their discretion before testifying to someone’s conversion, and be aware of the risks of fake testimony, especially if this is seen as a successful route to gaining asylum.”

Like Bishop Francis-Dehqani, Webster also believes that exalting this issue of false testimonies of Christian faith only takes attention away from the real problem: an immigration system that lacks real solutions. “To blame church leaders for abuse of the system is to divert attention away from the dysfunction of the immigration system.”

While this is an issue that should be in the eyes of priests and church leaders, it shouldn’t diminish the work of the body of Christ. Webster explained that discretion and integrity should not become skepticism and distrust.

“There will need to be more attention paid to how hospitality and welcome of churches could be abused,” Webster said, “but it shouldn’t stop churches from opening doors, introducing people to Jesus, and celebrating when people come to faith. … hospitality of those entering the UK is [a] key area of practical compassion and place for mission.”

On February 20, the Met's Marine Policing Unit in London reported that they may have found the Afghan asylum seeker turned attacker’s body by the Thames River. Investigators suspect he had “gone in the water” a few hours after the attack on January 31st.

The victim is still in critical care and is now blind in her left eye. Police have reported that they believe the attacker had a previous relationship with the victim that broke down. He was granted asylum in the UK even though he had previously been convicted of a sexual offense.