By Desmond Fernandes
The UK government last week sought to project itself as the champion of religiously persecuted people worldwide when it announced its Global Human Rights sanctions regime targeting those involved in religious persecution. The announcement was made during a House of Lords webinar titled the ‘Anniversary of the Launch of the Independent Review of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians’ which was attended by Hannah Chowdhry from the BACA with around 600 other guests.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab sought to reassure the public and human rights organisations that “everyone, no matter their faith or belief, deserves to be able to live a free and safe life, wherever they are in the world”.
Unfortunately, even as he added that “our new global human rights regime will allow the UK to protect people of all religions, faiths and no belief against serious human rights violations and abuses”, refugee rights campaigners expressed their continuing concern that the same government’s Home Office, in keeping with its ‘hostile/compliant environment’ policy, continues to actually shut its doors and refuse to grant ‘refugee status’ to many Christians, Muslims, Hindus and targeted ‘Others’ fleeing the most extreme forms of religious/ethno-religious persecution in countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Many of these ‘failed’ asylum seekers have travelled to and applied for asylum in the UK precisely in the hope that they could receive ‘protection’ and ‘be able to live a free and safe life’. As Dominic Raab rightly notes: “Everyone, no matter their faith or belief, deserves to be able to live a free and safe life, wherever they are in the world”. But will they receive it when they ask for it as asylum seekers in the UK?
Unfortunately, as the British Asian Christian Association and other concerned parliamentarians and human rights campaigners have discovered, the Home Office produces and relies on Country Policy and Information Notes (CPIN’s) that provide dangerously misleading guidance to refugee determination officers regarding the nature and extent of religious persecution in several countries.
This ‘guidance’ often seeks to deny that persecution, in general, is experienced by the groups under consideration. When placed within the existent ‘hostile environment’, Sile Reynolds, Senior Policy Advisor at Freedom from Torture additionally concludes that: “The ‘hostile environment’ approach has undoubtedly made it harder for asylum caseworkers to perform their functions to a standard that reflects the principle of refugee protection, the right to rehabilitation for torture survivors and respect for the rule of law”.
In a book we produced last year (‘Call it by its name: Persecution!’, authored by Desmond Fernandes, a former senior lecturer at De Montfort University, with an introduction by Lord Alton), we detailed the manner in which UK asylum determination case-workers who rely on the Pakistan: Christians and Christian converts (Version 3.0, September 2018) CPIN are dangerously mislead about key persecution assessments that have been made over the matter and instead are expected to draw upon Home Office guidance, assessments and conclusions that are deeply flawed and misleading. The CPIN misleadingly, for example, asserts that “Christians in Pakistan are a religious minority who, in general, suffer discrimination but this is not sufficient to amount to a real risk of persecution”.
Just four months ago, during a UK All-Party Group for Pakistani minorities meeting to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the assassination of Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti (who was assassinated for attempting to secure justice for religious minority people, including Asia Bibi, who were being persecuted), Lord Alton “said that if Pakistan’s authorities had failed to bring to justice the murderers of a government minister, what prospect of justice is there for people from beleaguered and persecuted minorities. He criticised the UK Home Office for not recognising the continuing attacks on minorities as persecution, but simply calling it discrimination … He said: ‘In recent years, the world observed how Asia Bibi fought for justice in Pakistan. [Falsely] accused of making blasphemous statements during an argument about drinking water from a well. She was acquitted last year after spending eight years on death row. Several months later, she managed to leave Pakistan in pursuit of a safe haven. I pay great tribute to Canada for providing sanctuary – unlike the UK and other countries who shamefully turned their eyes away’”.
In our latest book, ‘UK Home Office Denialism of the Persecution of Christians, Muslims and Hindus in Sri Lanka’ (authored by Desmond Fernandes), we once again clearly demonstrate the highly selective, problematic and dangerously misleading ‘guidance’ and ‘advice’ that is presented in the Home Office Sri Lanka: Minority religious groups (Version 1.0 March 2018) CPIN, which surely contributes to several flawed ‘refugee status’ determinations. The book will be published and ready for sale next month.
We present extensive information and findings that reveal the manner in which selective information is presented in the CPIN to provide misleading ‘guidance’ and ‘advice’ to refugee determination/decision makers in the UK and overseas (it is known, for instance, that refugee determination officers in the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, rely on this and other Home Office CPIN’s for ‘guidance’ and ‘advice’ in making their determinations even as refugee determination officers and government policy analysts in EU countries, Canada, Australia and elsewhere also refer to these CPIN’s for reference), which results in flawed determinations.
Flawed determinations lead to several religiously/ethno-religiously persecuted Christian, Muslim and Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, consequently, being denied refugee status and being deported back to Sri Lanka where they face the very real prospect of re-persecution. The ‘hostile/compliant environment’ policy as well as the strategy of using inaccurate and misleading CPIN’s to deport religiously/ethno-religiously persecuted asylum seekers is incompatible with the government’s supposed and projected policy of championing, recognising/identifying the persecuted status and asylum/sanctuary needs of Christians and targeted ‘Others’ worldwide and acting to protect and secure free and safe lives for them, wherever they are in the world (even if they happen to be in the UK, claiming asylum from ethno-religious/religious persecution).
We appeal to concerned parliamentarians, ministers, human rights campaigners, public interest, faith and non-faith bodies and concerned members of the public to raise these issues of concern with the government and the Home Office, in the hope that persecuted people seeking asylum in the UK can be offered an opportunity “to live a free and safe life, wherever they are in the world”.
Juliet Chowdhry, said:
“The webinar was very informative but despite efforts to help persecuted Christians by the Foreign Office, it seems our Home Office has not read the report.
“Despite years of campaigning by numerous groups focused on eradicating persecution of Christians in Pakistan, their plight continues.
“When they attempt to gain asylum in the UK fewer than 50%, of less than 150 applicants per year, attain refugee status.
“Their failure inevitably arises from the fact that our Home Office believes that if persecuted in one city of Pakistan, Christians can move to another where they may only receive severe discrimination.
“BACA has evidence of deportees that have been re-persecuted on return to their homeland and continue to challenge for a change to the existing position.”
BACA continue to provide advocacy and aid to Pakistani Christians. You can support our work by donating (here)
 Alton, D. (2020) ‘Speeches, articles and books from David Alton’ – 3 March 2020 (accessed at davidalton.net).