Bishop hits back at claims that Church is aiding fake asylum converts

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani

The Bishop of Chelmsford has denied suggestions in the media that the Church of England has "aided and abetted" asylum seekers through the system by supporting fake conversions.

The Church has been on the back foot since an acid attack on a woman and two children in London's Clapham South last week.

The suspect Abdul Ezedi, who is still being hunted by police, came to the UK from Afghanistan and said he had converted to Christianity, with his claim supported by a priest. He was granted asylum despite being convicted of a sexual assault in Newcastle in 2018.

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman has claimed that "churches around the country" are "facilitating industrial-scale bogus asylum claims".

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Guli Francis-Dehqani, has hit back at the claims in the The Telegraph.

The bishop, who came to the UK as a refugee from Iran, said that religious ministers only endorse conversion claims "after careful assessment" and that "it is wrong to think of this as some sort of magic ticket" to asylum.

"The notion that a person may be fast-tracked through the asylum system, aided and abetted by the Church is simply inaccurate," she said. 

She cited baptism guidance that tells ministers to be discerning about whether candidates fully understand the significance. 

She also said that responsibility for assessing and vetting asylum seekers' claims lies with the Home Office. 

"As a Christian leader I make no apology for our involvement in supporting people who are often deeply vulnerable and traumatised.

"But churches have no power to circumvent the Government's duty to vet and approve applications – the responsibility for this rests with the Home Office," she said. 

Dr Francis-Dehqani went on to dismiss suggestions of a link between bishops in the House of Lords opposing the government's Rwanda plan, and abuse of the asylum system. 

"We are not politicians, and we know that to be involved in political debate can be bruising," she said.

"But those who have claimed a link between the abuse of our asylum system and the action of bishops in Parliament are simply wrong.

"It is saddening to see this being implied by former holders of senior ministerial office, who have had opportunity but not sought to raise these concerns with senior clergy before."