Christian asylum seeker asked 'unusually difficult' Bible questions by Australian tribunal

Australia's refugee policy is increasingly controversial.Reuters

An Australian tribunal which asked a Chinese Christian asylum seeker "unusually difficult" Bible questions to verify her faith has been accused by a federal court of trying to trip her up in order to avoid granting her refugee status.

The woman, a Catholic convert, claimed members of her family were beaten, tortured and jailed in China because of their faith and that her brother had been killed, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Her initial asylum claim was rejected, but she appealed to the Refugee Review Tribunal. Under the Australian system a review is typically conducted by only one tribunal member.

The member began by asked questions about baptism, before moving on to questions including: "What were Jesus's final instructions to His disciples before he was taken up to heaven?", "What visible sign of the Holy Spirit did the disciples see on the day of the Pentecost?", "What was the name of the garden in which Jesus was arrested?" and "What is the name of the second book of the Old Testament?"

Other questions included what the Israelis were supposed to put on the doors of their houses to save themselves from the last plague in Egypt, how Aaron was related to Moses and what book that was in, and "How often does Jesus say that we must forgive someone?"

The tribunal member ruled that "her lack of knowledge of Christianity is demonstrative of the fact that she is not a genuine practising Christian". Her correct answers were "rehearsed and memorised", the member said.

The federal court said: "The fair-minded observer might reasonably consider that the tribunal's purpose in asking the questions was not to determine whether the applicant genuinely held a Christian belief, but, instead, to expose her ignorance."

It added: "Whichever way the applicant answered, the tribunal would have found her answers demonstrated the absence of a genuine belief in Christianity."

The non-violent Australian Christian activist Jarrod McKenna told Christian Today: "They are tricky questions even for a pastor to answer. What it reminds me of is Australia's white Australia policy. What they are really testing is not someone's faith. It is Australia's white Australia policy that they've really got to repent of."

Australia's policy towards refugees and asylum seekers has been widely criticised by human rights groups. Under a system it calls "offshore processing", boats are routinely turned away. Other refugees are detained in camps on remote islands while their applications for asylum are assessed. Australia also signed a much-criticised deal with Cambodia last year to pay it to take refugees.

Human Rights Watch's Australia director Elaine Pearson has said that Australia's policy is "impractical, cruel and inhumane". "It may be effective in diverting the problem onto other countries but it fails to address the fact that people need to flee persecution and go somewhere."