Under the UK’s immigration law, you may be granted permission to stay here as a refugee if you are not able to live safely in your home country because you face persecution there, including on the grounds of your race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs. You may also face persecution in relation to your gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
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To make a successful asylum application in the UK, you will need to prove that you were unable to gain protection from persecution in your home country. You must also not have travelled through a safe third country on your way to the UK, and you must have no connections to another safe country in which you could claim asylum. In this article, we will explain how you can claim UK asylum due to religious persecution, including following religious conversion.
Assessing Your Well-founded Fear of Persecution
Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention (of which the UK is a party) states:
“For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “refugee” shall apply to any person who…owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.
Just stating that you have a well-founded fear of persecution is not sufficient to successfully claim asylum; you must satisfy the Home Office that this is the case. The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 now includes a two-stage assessment, which is used by Home Office case officers to decide whether a person claiming asylum has a well-founded fear of persecution. The first stage of the test asks decision-makers to consider whether:
- The claimant has a particular characteristic which would cause them to fear persecution for one or more of the convention reasons, and
- Whether they genuinely fear persecution
The second stage then requires the decision maker to consider whether there is a real risk of harm if a claimant is required to return to their home country. But how are these rules applied when it comes to religion and religious persecution?
Proving a Well-founded Fear of Religious Persecution
Religious persecution means that a person or group of people is at risk of mistreatment because of their religious beliefs, perceived faith, affiliations or their lack of religious beliefs. Religious persecution includes arrests, confiscation or destruction of property, incitement of hatred, intimidation, legal threats, attacks on places of worship, imprisonment, beatings, torture, murder, restrictions on the right to access education or health services, or restrictions on the right to earn a living.
It is important to understand that a person does not have to follow Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or another major religion to claim asylum. As such, the term “religion” has a much broader meaning. Section 33(1)(b) of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 states that “religion” refers to “the holding of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, the participation in, or abstention from, formal worship in public or private, either alone or in community with others, other religious acts or expressions of view, or forms of personal or communal conduct based on or mandated by any religious belief”.
Even if an asylum applicant has not received a religious education, they do not take part in religious rituals, or even if they have no religious beliefs, they may be perceived to be a member of a faith community and hence at risk of religious persecution.
When assessing asylum applications where there is a well-founded fear of religious persecution, a range of factors will bea taken into account by the Home Office, including:
- Whether the claimant genuinely adheres to the religion or belief to which they profess to belong
- How the claimant observes their beliefs in private and public
- Whether observing their beliefs would place them at risk of persecution
- The consequences of non-compliance, and
- Whether the claimant would be expected to modify their beliefs, deny their religious faith or lack of belief, or feign belief in the state ‘approved’ faith to avoid persecution.
If you have converted to a different religion or renounced (apostasy) the religion of your birth or upbringing, it is important to understand what the Home Office case officer will take into account when deciding whether you have a well-founded fear of persecution. Most cases of this type relate to conversions from Islam to Christianity.
If you have renounced your religion, you will need to demonstrate why you no longer believe in or in or practise your past faith. On the other hand, if you converted to a different religion, you will need to explain what contributed to your decision to accept and follow your new faith and that you have genuinely done so. To determine if you have genuinely converted to another religion to the balance of probabilities standard, the Home Office will look at the following:
- Your attendance at a place of worship
- When you converted
- Your understanding of the faith you converted to, and
- The opinions of other members of the congregation as to the genuineness of your conversion.
Asylum Application Process on the Basis of Religious Persecution and Conversion
The process of seeking asylum based on religion follows the general asylum procedure but requires specific attention to detail regarding the nature of the persecution and the claimant’s religious beliefs.
Upon arrival in the UK or as soon as you realise you need protection, you should claim asylum. The initial screening interview includes basic questions about your identity and the reason for your claim.
Later, you will have a more in-depth asylum interview where you must explain why you fear persecution in your home country, including details of your religious beliefs or conversion. It’s essential to provide any evidence or documents to support your asylum claim.
The Home Office will consider your application, assessing the evidence, your interview, and relevant country information. This decision might require a few months to be assessed and give you a decision. If your asylum application is rejected, you have the right to appeal. An immigration judge will reevaluate your case at a tribunal hearing. During the progression of your asylum claim, you may qualify for government support and accommodation.
Since the asylum is on the basis of religious persecution, it’s crucial to articulate clearly the nature of the persecution and how your religious beliefs or conversion have led to a well-founded fear of persecution in your home country.
It’s recommended that you have an asylum lawyer to help prepare your case and assist you throughout the procedure when applying for asylum based on religion, as the process can be intimidating to navigate alone.
To claim asylum on the basis of religious persecution, religious conversion, or freedom of religion, you must be able to prove that you have a genuine and well-found fear of religious persecution by passing the two-part test defined in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. This requires a robust knowledge of the relevant UK and EU law, case law, and the Home Office’s detailed guidance when preparing your application. An expert immigration solicitor will ensure that your case is prepared to the highest standards and that all necessary evidence is provided to ensure a successful outcome of your asylum application.
Gulbenkian Andonian specialises in the most complex and urgent immigration applications and cases. Our immigration solicitors have successfully assisted many individuals and their family members in overcoming overwhelming odds to remain in the UK; let us do the same for you. Call us on +44 (0) 207 269 9590 or fill out the form below to discuss your matter with one of our friendly and empathetic team.
To qualify for asylum based on religious grounds, an individual must demonstrate fear of persecution in their home country due to their religious beliefs, affiliation, or lack of religious beliefs. The application process involves providing substantial evidence, including personal statements and supporting documents, that outlines specific threats or incidents of persecution.
The applicant does not need to demonstrate extensive religious knowledge but should be able to articulate their personal beliefs and how their faith or lack of faith has led to a genuine fear of persecution in their country of origin.
Applicants seeking asylum in the UK need to provide identification documents, evidence of persecution (such as police reports or medical records), and any documents that support their well-founded fear of persecution based on religion or other grounds.
Writing an asylum statement requires detailing your well-founded fear of persecution based on religion or other conventional reasons. Asylum lawyers or expert immigration solicitors can instruct you in composing an effective statement that aligns with UK law.
The act of seeking asylum involves an individual departing from their native country and submitting a request for safety in a different nation, driven by concerns of persecution or substantial human rights infringements. Contrarily, the declaration of refugee status takes place when the host nation has approved the individual’s claim, granting them legal recognition as a refugee.
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Dr Bernard Andonian – the Co-Founder of Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, is an experienced Immigration Solicitor, former Judge, and recipient of a PhD in Law from the University of West London. He has over four decades of experience practising UK Immigration, Human Rights and Civil Litigation Law. He has served on the Law Society Immigration Law Panel, achieved numerous groundbreaking decisions in higher courts and is featured in the Legal 500’s Hall of Fame.