New Report: Fleeing Persecution; Asylum Claims in the UK on Religious Freedom Grounds

The report, co-authored by Ziya Meral, explores how the British Home Office processes asylum applications made on the basis of religious persecution. It surveys international and domestic law provisions on religious persecution and asylum, as well as best practice on processing such applications, before turning to how such a process unfolds in day to day practice. It uses real life cases provided by experts, stakeholders and individual refugees who testified before two hearings organised by the APPG on International Religious Freedom or provided written statements. 

In light of the findings of this report, Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group make the following recommendations to the Home Secretary:

1. Immediately start disaggregate asylum claims on different convention grounds and, specifically, keep a record of the number of asylum claims made on the basis of religious persecution as well as the acceptance vs. rejection rate of such cases so as to assess the true scale of such claims and how sensitively such claims are being dealt with.

2. Provide focused training on freedom of religion and belief and assessments of religious freedom and persecution based asylum applications to decision makers.

3. Ensure that the policy guidelines and judicial decisions that relate to freedom of religion or belief cases are used by decision makers.

4. Issue a specific statement to decision makers clearly stating the good practice principles and legal frameworks that apply to religious persecution cases and examples of shortcomings by decision makers stated in this report in light of them.

5. Ensure that the case workers and interpreters used by the Home Office and decision-makers uphold the same standards of professional conduct expected from Home Office staff. All such individuals should be trained to have adequate knowledge of different forms of religious persecution and the right to freedom of religion or belief, the specific religious terminology of different religious groups as well as the cultural contexts of applicants, especially if the applicant identifies as a member of a religious group perceived as ‘heretical’ by others adhering to the same religion. This depth of knowledge is needed so that the religious and cultural contextual meaning of the asylum applicants’ words can be understood and clearly conveyed. In particular, it must be ensured that the case worker/interpreter’s own cultural context does not give rise to bias in their work.

6. Given the complexities of asylum cases involving religion, just as all LGBTI asylum case decisions are reviewed by a Technical Specialist before being issued to the applicant, ensure that cases involving religious persecution are also checked by an expert supervisor to ensure consistency and due process in all cases.

7. Work with faith-communities and charities specialising in freedom of religion and belief to check credibility of applicants, and keep up to date information on global developments.

8. Ensure that the asylum procedures are sensitive to the applicants’ experiences, backgrounds and well-being. Also ensure that applicants should not be caused unnecessary distress and should feel able to speak freely, especially in cases where the case worker/interpreter is a member of the religious community that has carried out the applicant’s persecution. In such cases, applicants should be re-assigned to a different interpreter (and/or case worker) with whom they feel comfortable to speak freely.

9. In cases where individuals have been granted asylum on grounds of religious persecution, the UK Home Office should fast-track dependents’ applications and visas for them to join the successful applicant. While it is of course welcome that dependents are permitted to settle outside the country in which they are persecuted, the current 3 – 6 month processing period of dependents’ applications is a time during which the applicants may also be at real risk of persecution.

10. Take account of judicial findings and objective information on the safety of internal relocation of religious minorities in the countries from which they have fled. Developments in communications technology have enabled information about individuals targeted by violent ‘extremist’ groups to be shared with ease, even if they move across a country, making the possibility of internal relocation often an unviable option.

Download the report here.


Testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons

House of Commons, Foreign Affairs Committee  began taking evidence for their Political Islam Inquiry. Ziya Meral testified before the committee, along with Dr Omar Ashour, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter and Dr Courtney Freer, Middle East Centre, London School of Economics. The aim of this session was to explore the following:  

  • The policies of the political Islamists, and their relationship with democratic practices
  • The relationship between political Islamists and more violent or extreme groups
  • The UK’s Muslim Brotherhood Review, and the future evolution of Political Islam


Read more about the FAC's Political Islam Inquiry here. 


A Note of Despair on Turkey

As I write this note, the news that the Turkish courts have basically took control of yet another Turkish newspaper critical of the AKP government continue to spread across the world.

The steps to close Today's Zaman is just the latest step taken by AKP government to curb the power and reach of Gulen movement. Yet, it is also the latest step in the truly worrying decline of freedom of media in the country. Form shutting down access to social media to taking thousands of people to courts on accusations of insulting the President, the government has long crossed any defendable limitation that can be brought against freedom of speech under international law. 

The outcome is not good for Turkey. Yes, its media is often more political than factual, more biased and partisan than fair and objective. But without a full spectrum of those voices Turkey cannot leap forward. AKP officials themselves should remember how the same state aggression for decades ultimately did not work, and the old rules are now hardly remembered. Thus, this is also not good for AKP.  The frantic effort to secure its control by such means will eventually backfire and it is making AKP more and more vulnerable for a sudden loss of votes and loss of government.  

This is not merely a human rights issue anymore. Gross failures of the government in upholding international standards, blurring the lines between executive and legal branch, governing through a chaotic power structures beyond constitutionally defined roles are causing Turkey serious long term damage. This is exactly the moment Turkey needs a new foreign policy, a new momentum to advance its economy and domestic stability. Yet, neither its government, nor opposition parties to that matter, seem to be able to lift their heads and realise the wild forest fire raging around Turkey.  

Turkey desperately needs positive, constructive and creative voices. Such voices can only emerge if there is a free public space. At the moment, some of the brightest minds in the country are choosing to remain quiet, so as not to be a victim of government pressure, or lynching by pro and anti government angry, zero sum partisan voices that are dominating the conversations. 

Time to take a leave from Twitter

I joined Twitter after a 20 mins long homily by a TV producer who told me that someone in my profession had to use the platform to make new connections, access information and promote ideas. Since then, I must confess, I have been hooked on Twitter, often spending more time on it than I should, thanks largely due to prolonged commutes and lonely hours spent in front of computer screens for writing deadlines.

In the process, I have learned a lot from what I read, and my interactions with people who had specialisms in areas I did not. I also made new friends, became aware of many people with similar interests that I did not know about. I stumbled upon some truly beautiful, unique and exceptional people, and even if I never directly engaged with them, they enriched my life. And yes, I did unashamedly use it for promoting my articles, and projects. 

Then there was the darker side; anonymous trolls, personal slurs, random people who think you are obliged to engage with them and who think social conventions of respect and boundaries do not exist online. At no stage in my life have I received such personal attacks, and seen break down of cordial relationships simply due to differences of opinions expressed as complex developments unfold. The list of labels I got given ranged every spectrum of every political group and conspiracy theory characters. I often felt peer pressure to raise hands in Mexican waves of thoughts, out of proportion emotional outbursts. And when I didn't, even when I shared those particular concerns, I faced judgement for what I did not say and how strongly or weakly I said it.  I also saw how what people said was being catalogued, and saved as an arsenal for a later use to slap them on the face. It was sad to accept that while I saw engagement and conversation as a chance to learn and grow, many did not. Each expressed thought was a test of whether you are with 'them' or the 'other'. Communication was merely taking a stand, and engagement merely a battle to defeat and mute an opponent, not win him or her. And being impacted by engagement and new ideas, thus altering one's own views and clear cut conclusions was a sin. If someone did in fact change positions, tweets from previous thoughts would always be thrown back at them with commentary of intentions, hypocrisy, weak mindedness.

I came to recognise how such interactions impact my own personal wellbeing. I recognised a disparity between my day to day life interactions and 'social media' ones. When my own expressions in tweets only reflected a tiny slice and often 'fresh out of oven' thoughts, the reader only perceived me as a picture, and a name, and whatever emotional signal those communicated to them. While seeing my name and pic regularly on their timeline brought familiarity, it always amazed me how much they assumed about me, my intentions, what my religious and political beliefs are, what issues I am sensitive about. 

More worryingly, I came to realise that the medium is now shaping thoughts and language. Rather than enabling them to reach out, it is shaping them into its own patterns. This was a similar issue I had with excessive use of PowerPoints, that yes helped to share some forms of data, but by and large forced thoughts into single bullet points and visually expressible language patterns, increasingly dumbing down thoughts, taking more time and effort than the actual content. Nuance, complexity disappeared, brains were geared towards outwitting each other in catchy phrases. The medium only encouraged partisanship and amigos wanting to cheer crowds. Its reward system of follower, like and retweet numbers meant that it incentivised harshest, and most edgy statements. Its quick firing speed was helpful for quick thinking when news broke, but horribly harmful in helping with an actual understanding. These not only contradicted my entire academic formation, but also professional work, and most importantly personal outlook in life. 

Alas, I shall leave Twitter for now, not in a Stephen Fry style frustration or due to a specific recent incident, but in recognition that it works for what it is, and for some people that is great. But for me,  at least for now, it is time to take a leave. There is enough on-line print where you can, if you wish to, follow my musings and work. In addition to this website, you can follow me on and if you know me professionally in real life on Linked-In. Or perhaps, like in the old days, do drop me a line to ask for a cup of coffee if you are in London, email an article you think I should read or a project you are working on that you think I would be interested in. On the positive side, one less "mr know it all" on your timeline and one less loud voice telling you whey they are right but others are wrong..