Coptic Orthodox Church UK – June 2016
The 7 June 2016 saw the launch of a report jointly commissioned by the Asylum Advocacy Group (AAG) and The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief. The report, entitled ‘Fleeing Persecution: Asylum Claims in the UK on Religious Freedom Grounds’ explores the effectiveness of the assessment of religion-based asylum claims in the UK, and the impact of the asylum process on the fairness and quality of decision-making.
Those attending the launch heard addresses by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, and Founder and Chair of the AAG, The Baroness Berridge of the Vale of Catmose, co-chair of the APPG, and Professor Geoff Gilbert, Professor of Law in the School of Law and Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex.
Chairing the meeting, Baroness Berridge said:
“We are aware that the Home office is trying to make incredibly nuanced and difficult decisions… [and] are here to help and assist so that genuine claims are accepted…We aim to work with the Home Office to improve the quality of decisions so as to avoid the heartache and the time and resources of lawyers at tribunal hearings.”
Speaking of the vulnerability of those fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the UK, Bishop Angaelos said:
“We have been working in collaboration with the Home Office for several years to ensure that the measures applied to determine the credibility of applications do not inadvertently disadvantage those truly in need of refuge and support.
While many have the benefit of freely choosing their faith or belief in some parts of the world, there are others for whom this decision makes them vulnerable to persecution, to the extent of sometimes threatening their very existence.
Conscious of the fact that some will desire to abuse the system, we must not forget the humaneness with which those legitimately applying on religious freedom grounds should be treated. This is not just a matter of statistics, because even if one case is misjudged, that represents one life placed at greater risk.”
Addressing the complexity of religious freedom case law and designation, Professor Gilbert said:
“It is a mistake to ignore religious based persecution…[which is] not limited to state-based activity…Cumulative discrimination can amount to persecution if there is enough of it…”
The report listed a number of recommendations regarding the asylum process, aimed at improving the effectiveness and sensitivity of guidelines, amongst which was:
“Ensure that the asylum procedures are sensitive to the applicants’ experiences, backgrounds and well-being. Also ensure that applicants should not be caused unnecessary distress and should feel able to speak freely…”
Present at the meeting were members of both Houses of Parliament, as well as religious freedom and advocacy organisations and representatives of a variety of religious and ethnic groups.
For a copy of the report online, including the full list of recommendations as part of the Executive summary, click here.
The Asylum Advocacy Group was formed in 2007 by HG Bishop Angaelos and incorporates the following interested parties to address the difficulties faced by some of those applying for asylum status in Britain on religious grounds: the Coptic Orthodox Church, Awareness Foundation, Baha’i Community of the UK, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Educational Relief Trust, the Evangelical Alliance, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, Open Doors, Premier Media Group, Release International, UK Copts Association, United Action for Egyptian Christians and United Copts of Great Britain. Given the turbulent and politically unstable years brought about by the uprisings in the Middle East since 2011, the AAG has expanded its remit to include the Middle East and North Africa region. The most recent AAG report – Addressing the Experience of Religious Minority Groups from the Middle East in the UK Asylum System (2013) – has been used to brief the Home Office, FCO, and judiciary, and has been used successfully to support applications of numerous affected parties.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief exists to raise awareness and the profile of international freedom of religion or belief as a fundamental human right that is integral to much of the UK’s foreign policy, among Parliamentarians, media, government institutions and the general public in the UK. The APPG also pursues effective implementation of policy recommendations regarding this right and seeks to increase the effectiveness of the UK’s contribution to international institutions charged with enforcing it.