The Immigration Minister has denied victims of religious persecution are being asked to recite the Ten Commandments when seeking asylum in Britain.
Robert Goodwill has asked Home Office officials to investigate claims of Christian converts having their applications rejected as they are unable to answer questions likened to a “Bible trivia quiz” by one MP.
But he attempted to dismiss concerns of a widespread problem over the Home Office’s application process for persecuted minorities, labelled “crass and clumsy” during a parliamentary debate.
Concerns over the test were repeated by MPs in light of a recent report which cited evidence of Christian converts having to demonstrate their religious belief by naming the commandments and explaining Ash Wednesday, among other questions.
One woman’s asylum claim was rejected as she could not recite the Lord’s Prayer and state how many books are in the New Testament, the report from the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for international freedom of religion or belief added.
But Mr Goodwill told a Westminster Hall debate: “May I just allay some of the fears?
“I asked some questions, and in assessing claims based on religious persecution, caseworkers are expected to ask appropriate and sensitive questions based on an understanding of religious concepts and forms of religious persecution.
“Where the credibility of a conversion to a particular faith needs to be established, an interview is far more an exploration of a claimant’s personal experiences and journey to their new faith in their country and the UK than it is a test of religious facts, such as, ‘Name the ten commandments’.
“Those are not the sorts of questions we are asking.”
He added later: “I am very clear about the fact that we understand that conversion is often a journey or process – not a Damascene moment, when someone sees the light.
“The interview questions and conversations seek to find out about that.
“It is not, as I said, just simple questions such as, ‘Name the 12 apostles’, or ‘List the Ten Commandments’. That is not the process we undertake.
“The process provides a summary of the human rights situation in the country and clear guidance on the types of claim likely to lead to a grant of asylum, to support effective decision-making and to ensure that we provide protection to those who are in genuine need.”
Mr Goodwill went on: “I am grateful to the all-party group for its considered report on such an important topic and I have asked my officials to investigate the cases raised in it and to continue engaging constructively with members of the group.”
Democratic Unionist Jim Shannon (Strangford) earlier said he raised the concerns with Mr Goodwill ahead of the debate.
He told MPs: “I do not want to trivialise the work that the Home Office does on asylum seekers, but some of the questions are almost a Bible trivia quiz.
“People are asked, ‘Can you tell us the books of the New Testament?’ or, ‘Can you tell us the names of the 12 apostles?’ – let us be honest, some of us in this room might be challenged to do that.”
Labour MP Kate Green, a former shadow equalities minister, labelled the Home Office’s approach as “crass and clumsy”.
She added: “There is a need for much greater training of Home Office staff so that simplistic approaches to assessing whether people have suffered religious persecution are abandoned, and so that we have a much subtler understanding of the trauma and why people might find it difficult when they apply to express what happened to them.”
Picture: An Iranian asylum-seeker wearing a Christian shirt waits to be baptised in the Trinity Church in Berlin. He is one of hundreds of mostly Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers who have converted to Christianity at the evangelical Trinity Church in the leafy Berlin neighbourhood. Most say true belief prompted their embrace of Christianity. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber).