Church of England mulls asylum seeker change amid conversion row

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 12:50 PM

By Muvija M

LONDON (Reuters) – The Church of England (CoE) is considering updating its guidance to clergy on supporting and ministering to asylum seekers, amid concerns that religious conversions are being exploited by people seeking to stay in Britain.

The Church’s role in the asylum system has been in the spotlight since media reports that faith leaders had helped a man from Afghanistan who was initially denied asylum to remain in Britain after he converted to Christianity.

Abdul Ezedi, who was granted asylum despite a sexual assault conviction, was suspected by police of carrying out a corrosive chemical attack in south London that seriously injured several people earlier this month. Police said his body had since been recovered from the River Thames.

“The guidance on supporting asylum seekers has been under scrutiny publicly and therefore within the Church recently,” Mark Sheard from the Archbishops’ Council said on Friday in response to a question on the teaching during a five-day meeting of the General Synod, the CoE’s governing body, in London.

Prior to the Ezedi incident the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had publicly criticised government plans to send asylum seekers who arrive in Britain without permission to Rwanda.

“Much has changed in asylum legislation and policy in recent years, and so an update is under consideration,” Sheard said, according to published remarks.

“It remains that, despite misrepresentation in the media from various sources, it is the duty of the Home Office (the interior ministry), not the churches, to make decisions on asylum applications.”

The Church will also reflect on questions of conversion, preparation for baptism, and ongoing discipleship, and stories to illustrate different approaches, Sheard added.

In response to the backlash following the chemical attack, Welby, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion of about 85 million Christians, said it was “disappointing to see the mischaracterisation of the role of churches and faith groups in the asylum system”.

(Reporting by Muvija M; Editing by Michael Holden and Gareth Jones)