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.