U.K. Home Office caseworkers handling asylum cases need training, says bishop

The United Kingdom's Home Office, the department that handles, among other things, passports and immigration, has received criticism following allegations that some of its interpreters are deliberately jeopardizing cases of some asylum seekers due to personal reasons.

Christian Syrian refugees travel in a bus which transports fifteen members of the same family who arrived at the Charles-de-Gaulle International Airport in Roissy, October 2, 2015. | Reuters/Stephane Mahe

"At best it is ignorance and at worst we have heard occasions where it has been intentional persecution and an intentional undermining of the case," Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Church in the U.K. and chair of the Asylum Advocacy group, said during an interview with Christian Today.

The report, compiled by Asylum Advocacy and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on international freedom of religion and belief, says that caseworkers who are working on asylum claims lack religious knowledge; thus, applicants are asked Bible trivia questions -- something that the report deems to be "too simplistic a way to judge if an individual is, for example, a genuine convert." And while Angaelos lauded the "good intentions" of the Home Office in updating its guidelines, he said people handling asylum cases need to undergo more training.

"This report's findings signal a lack of understanding and misperceptions of religion and belief among deicison-makers working within the UK asylum system," the report says.

The Christian Today article mentioned the case of an Ahmadi Muslim, who surmised that the interpreter during his interview had not translated his answers properly or might have missed things. He felt that this was because the interpreter "did not personally agree" with him. He, therefore, felt the need to use English, albeit with difficulty, to answer questions.

Angaelos also mentioned one case in which a Muslim interpreter had condemned a Christian convert's case. He said, "While it is only a statistic and may only be one case, for this one case it is a matter of life and death."

Baroness Berridge, chair of the AAPG, likewise acknowledged the Home Office's efforts to update the guidelines, but it's "the practises of the interviewers" that need to be addressed. She said that when people who have been traumatized are to tell their stories, then the right environment must be created for them.

"If you are someone who is claiming to be a victim of sexual violence, as a woman you have the right to ask for a caseworker and an interpreter who are female," she told Christian Today. "It is difficult with limited resources but we have to make sure the situation is such that we get the best version of the story out of the person first time around."