We represent many converts from Islam to Christianity and in particular we have close relations with the Coptic community. Many times the Home Office ask questions which the church refers to as Bible trivia and hold that it is a very poor way of assessing conversion for asylum claims. As a result, wrong decisions follow and appeals have to be pursued.
In 2016 an inquiry was set to look at the quality of assessment of religious based asylum claims in the UK and the impact of the asylum procedure on the fairness and quality of decision making. Evidence was submitted to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of religion and belief by a wide range of stake holders, holding a broad spectrum of religious beliefs, and no beliefs. as well as asylum seekers. The Immigration Law Practitioners Association submitted that it is clear that a lack of understanding of religion and belief is a primary cause of disparity between good policy guidelines and practice of decision makers within the UK asylum system.
The reason this inquiry matters to our clients is because we are witnessing a large migration of people who fear religious persecution and who suffer from religiously motivated violence. The reality is that this trend will continue and that the number of individuals seeking asylum on the grounds of religious persecution will increase.
Freedom of religion or belief was first enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sadly, even with international law, even when the law offers the basis for protection, violence is widespread and individuals such as our clients suffer abuse directly from the state or from their society either because they convert, don’t practice a religion or are perceived to be atheists. The day to day experience of our clients can be either physical abuse, intimidation, imprisonment and in some cases discrimination. Persecution not only arises from Government restrictions, but also from social hostilities which involve deeply ingrained societal views.
In our work we evaluate whether the fear of suffering persecution is reasonable, whether it is well-founded in the circumstances, what is the state of mind of the applicant and can it be regarded as justified, and whether or not they have already been a victim of persecution. So, we have to assess the physical and psychological state of our clients and the situation in the country of origin. Furthermore it is important to know that where discrimination is involved, the UNHCR has suggested that persecution can be claimed on cumulative grounds. Whereas an act of discrimination in itself may not be sufficient to claim refugee status, where this is combined with other adverse factors, such as general atmosphere of insecurity, or where the person has been a victim of a number of discriminatory measures, this may be enough to establish persecution. Constant threats to the life and well-being of religious minorities, physical and violent attacks by non-state actors, burning, forcible exclusion from their homes, persistent and real threat of the application of blasphemy laws, amount to persecution.
On occasions we have successfully argued the prosecution of criminal laws by the state, for example in Egypt, or the punishment imposed, can amount to persecution. We established that criminal law offences target a particular religious or racial community and the criminal law goes against the principle of natural justice where the punishment is excessive.