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Artillery Row

The case for Christian converts

Don’t let allegedly bogus conversions cause you to forget that real ones exist

If the success of an argument were judged by column inches alone, it is clear that those arguing that  the asylum system in the UK is being “gamed” on a large scale by fake Christian converts have won.

In the two weeks since the Clapham attack was carried out by an Afghan refugee whom it transpired had been granted asylum on the basis of his professed conversion — and the risk this may put him in should he be deported — the issue has become something of a hot topic.

The Telegraph shared a sort of semi-confessional by a former C of E vicar who said the Church had become a “conveyor belt” for baptising fake converts. The Times published its own investigative report this week, highlighting the scale of the alleged problem. 

Judges are accepting the claims of bogus Christian converts even if they don’t believe them, the authors argued, just because of tattoos on their arms or “Christian” posts on social media. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail, in its own unique way, used the moment to highlight the case of a paedophile who “claims he cannot be deported because he has converted to Christianity”.

But amidst all the fanfare, one story has been lost, and that is the story of the real converts

It seems everyone has had something to say on the issue. Even the Sun’s former editor — its “most successful”, according to his profile on X — chipped in. “Every Muslim from now on will get a tattoo of Jesus and can stay here even if a judge does not believe him,” Kelvin Mackenzie lamented. “Grateful if our politicians might do something about this. That’s the bloody reason we elected you.”

But amidst all the fanfare, one story has been lost, and that is the story of the real converts, and why some — perhaps not all, but some — asylum-seekers really do convert to Christianity, and therefore merit asylum. 

To give one example from my work — and there are many I could choose from — there is currently an Iranian Christian convert by the name of Mojtaba Keshavarz Ahmadi holed up in a deportation camp in Turkey, from where he has been seeking resettlement for over a decade, having fled his country of origin due to the persecution he endured since converting to Christianity back in 2002.

Mojtaba fled Iran in 2013 after being sentenced to three years in prison for “propaganda activities against the regime of the Islamic Republic”, and faces imprisonment should he return.

Last year, the charity for which I work launched a joint report on the issue of Iranian Christian refugees like Mojtaba who are stuck in Turkey and whose need for urgent resettlement was described as “critical”. We have documented the cases of over 100 Iranian Christian families in the same position — most of whom are converts. 

We have seen their court verdicts and their claims are not bogus. We also have their Witness Statements, including Mojtaba’s, testifying to what they’ve endured — and there are scores of them.

Compared to that, as the Times acknowledged, last year in the UK there were just 28 claims to come through UK courts centering on professed conversion to Christianity — just 1 per cent of cases — and only seven were accepted.

So if the victory in this argument were indeed to be won by sheer numbers alone, we could present a pretty convincing counter-argument, and that of course would only be counting the converts from one particular country of origin.

Another thing that has been lost in the rush to condemn UK judges, church leaders, the asylum system, and asylum-seekers themselves, is the complexity of each claim. 

As politicians lament the backlog of cases and the desperate need to find some way of handling them — by housing them on barges, for example, or flying them off to Rwanda — the individual stories of those involved are lost.

If one were to listen only to media reports and to be swayed by the number of stories written, or comments shared, on the issue, one would indeed think we were overwhelmed by fakes determined to arrive on these shores only to enjoy their share in Nigel Farage’s “Treasure Island”. 

For some, of course, this may be true, but ask countless lawyers, human rights activists, church pastors, or regular citizens who have supported an asylum-seeker, and they will testify to having listened and found that, despite all the noise, theirs was a story worth hearing. 

Next week, my organisation will present its latest joint annual report at parliament, highlighting the rights violations endured by Christians in Iran — most of them converts — and theirs too is a story worth listening to.

You can find out more about the event, and invite your MP to attend, here.

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