A 'small number' of asylum seeker conversions might not be real, says bishop

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani

The Bishop of Chelmsford has said that it is "very difficult" to know if a conversion to Christianity is real, regardless of whether the person is from the UK or not.

Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani appeared on the BBC Sunday Programme to discuss claims that the Church of England has been complicit in asylum seekers gaming the system with fake conversions. 

She said that "inevitably" there would be "a small number of cases" of people trying to "scam us", but that preparation for baptism was "very rigorous" and that some people even abandon it because it takes too long. 

"We take seriously our responsibilities, but we also know that as Christians, our primary responsibility is one of welcome and hospitality and support and teaching, but we need to do that in a way that is that is wise and, and is aware that occasionally there are people who might try and scam us," she said. 

The bishop, who came to Britain as a refugee from Iran, said she was open to a review of the Church of England's current guidance for vicars around conversion, but added that there could never be complete certainty. 

"It's very difficult to look into the hearts of people ever and be 100 per cent. And that goes for whether that person is from Britain or an immigrant from elsewhere," she said. 

"But we absolutely advise clergy to do the best they can. And I think what's happening here is that inevitably there will be a small number of cases." 

Later in the discussion she said that the onus was on clergy to "be as confident as they possibly can be" that a candidate for baptism is sincere and understands what it means. 

"Preparation is in most cases very rigorous and that's right and proper. I think, God forbid, you do take that seriously regardless of where people are coming from. It's just that in the end, it's impossible to prove 100 per cent," she said. 

"But we do have this guidance and we do make it very clear that clergy must be as confident as they possibly can be that those seeking baptism fully understand what it signifies.

"As we've heard already, some people fall away from the system if they are trying to scam it because they realise it's taking longer than they would ideally like."

However, she said it was "wrong" that attention was being focused on "a very small number" of alleged abuses because "it's diverting attention away from the systemic problems, which is that we have an immigration system that's overwhelmed and inefficient".