Christian convert says his life will be at risk if he is deported back to Iran

Reza, his wife Leigh and their four-year-old daughter, Bonnie(Photo: Christian Concern)

A Christian convert whose bid for asylum has already been rejected twice is pleading with the Home Office not to send him back to his native Iran.

Reza Karkah, 38, lives in Bradford with his wife Leigh Riley and their four-year-old daughter, Rosie.

He is facing deportation back to Iran after a tribunal in 2018 concluded that deportation would not "expose him to a real act of persecution".

The Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which is supporting his fresh application for asylum, warns that if he returns to Iran, he risks imprisonment, torture or even execution for his Christian faith. 

Iran ranks ninth on the Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution.  In Iran, Christians are not allowed to share their faith with non-Christians, and converts are at risk of arrest and imprisonment.  

Mr Karkah came to the UK in 2003 but became a homeless drug addict and petty criminal after his initial asylum bid was rejected a year later. 

He met his wife on the streets but in a turnaround for both of them, they became Christians in 2015 through a local church's outreach programme and after being baptised, Mr Karkah was able to overcome his drug addiction.  He has also been out of the criminal justice system for five years and is active in his church, being involved in outreach to Iranian Muslims and translating church services from English to Farsi. 

His second asylum application in 2016 was rejected when the judge ruled that he had fabricated his Christian faith on the basis of the answers he gave to 150 questions in which he failed to correctly identify who betrayed Jesus and the denomination of his independent evangelical church. He also failed to answer a question on his favourite Bible passage, which the CLC said was because he had misinterpreted the word 'passage'.

The official further deemed that separation from his British wife and child would "not be unduly harsh". 

Speaking about the prospect of another failed asylum petition, Mr Karkah said: "I feel weighed down and that my life is on hold. 

"Knowing that I could be snatched off the street makes me nervous about leaving the house.

"We pray each time we go out that Jesus will have mercy on us. I now have a new life and a new hope. To think that this could be taken from me in a moment is horrible.

"I am afraid that my daughter will think I have abandoned her if I was deported."

His wife Leigh said: "When I was down and out on the streets, meeting Reza changed my life. He was the first person who was kind to me. Now we are a family and I am a mother to a beautiful four-year-old daughter.

"I don't even want to think about what they might do to my husband if he was returned to Iran. You hear such terrible stories."

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who came to the UK after experiencing persecution in Pakistan, has met Mr Karkah and his wife, and said he found them to be "entirely sincere in their Christian faith and life".

"We continue to encourage the authorities in Iran to respect fundamental freedoms but it remains a dangerous place for Christian converts from Islam and Reza is at real risk of losing his liberty or even his life, whether judicially or extra judicially and deserves protection for himself and for the sake of his young family," he said.

Andrea Williams, CLC chief executive, said that the Home Office has "not properly understood the nature of Christian faith or the scale of the challenges faced by Christians in Iran".

"Reza Karkah is the real deal. A courageous man transformed by the gospel and the hope of the Lord Jesus Christ," he said.

"At stake here is not just the life of Reza, but also his equally brave yet vulnerable wife, and their beautiful daughter."

She added: "We call on the Home Office to grant Reza asylum and for the government to address the ignorance of Christianity demonstrated in its asylum assessments and procedures."