Priti Patel accuses church of helping asylum seekers ‘game the system’ by converting to Christianity
Priti Patel accuses church of helping asylum seekers ‘game the system’ by converting to Christianity – as it’s claimed people smugglers are advising migrants to ‘find Jesus’ to secure their visa in Britain
- The Church of England is facing questions over asylum seekers such as the Liverpool bomber lying about converting to Christianity so they could be awarded refugee status
- Emad Al Swealmeen lost bid to stay in Britain in 2014 but had an appeal outstanding when he blew himself up
- He was baptised at Liverpool’s cathedral – one of 200 asylum seekers to adopt faith there over a four years
- The appeal, believed to be linked to his new Christian faith, meant the Home Office was unable to deport him
- Ms Patel said his case was a ‘reflection’ on the ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘broken’ asylum system being exploited
The Church of England was today accused of aiding asylum seekers to ‘game’ the immigration system by helping hundreds to convert from Islam and ‘pray to stay’ in the UK as it emerged people smugglers are using Instagram to urge migrants to follow Jesus to help them gain British citizenship.
Emad Al Swealmeen lost his first bid to stay in Britain in 2014 but appealed again in 2017 after he worshipped at Liverpool Cathedral and his case was still outstanding when he blew himself up in a taxi on Sunday.
He was baptised and confirmed having apparently spoken ‘endlessly and passionately about Jesus’, but members of the city’s largest Anglican church admitted they ‘lost contact’ with him within months of the ceremony. He was one of around 200 asylum seekers to adopt the faith there over a four-year period.
A clergyman at Liverpool Cathedral previously raised concerns about asylum seekers cynically posing as Christians to boost their chances of being awarded refugee status. Rev Mohammad Eghtedarian admitted in 2016 that ‘plenty of people’ were lying about their intentions after it emerged that the Church of England had christened hundreds of asylum seekers under a scheme dubbed ‘pray to stay’.
He said: ‘There are many people abusing the system… I’m not ashamed of saying that. But is it the person’s fault or the system’s fault? And who are they deceiving? The Home Office, me as a pastor, or God?’
MPs are to demand a formal Parliamentary probe into whether fake Christian converts are duping the Church of England to avoid being deported back to strict Muslim countries they came from – and Priti Patel could be hauled in to give evidence.
It came as new statistics revealed that between January 2020 and June this year, 29% of all migrants arriving by boat say they are from Iran and 20% say they are from Iraq. 91% of all migrants came from just 10 countries – including Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen. These are also nations named in the top 20 countries where Christians are the most persecuted for following Jesus.
Priti Patel said last night that Al Swealmeen, who changed his name to Enzo Almeni shortly after finding Jesus, exploited the UK’s asylum ‘merry-go-round’ while a Home Office source said changing from Islam to Christianity is now ‘standard practice’ among asylum seekers ‘to game the asylum system’.
Pledging to overhaul the asylum system, Home Secretary Miss Patel declared last night: ‘The case in Liverpool was a complete reflection of how dysfunctional, how broken, the system has been in the past, and why I want to bring changes forward.
‘It’s a complete merry-go-round and it’s been exploited by a whole professional legal services industry which has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day in day out on legal aid at the expense of the taxpayers.’
Today it emerged that people traffickers have used social media sites such as Instagram to advertise crossings from France to the UK – and urge customers to consider conversion to Christianity to bolster their cases. Because the largest number of UK asylum seekers come from Muslim countries, they can also argue that their new faith would put their lives at risk if they returned to the home country.
One such advert, in Arabic, has a picture of Jesus and says finding God will lead to more successful asylum claims ‘in the shortest possible time with the lowest cost’.
Terrorist Al Swealmeen pictured on the right being converted to Christianity in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in 2017. Sources claim he may have found Jesus just to improve his immigration case. He was not seen by the church soon after he was confirmed
People smugglers have been sharing posts like this on Instagram, which apparently urge people who want to go to the UK to find Jesus to aid their asylum case and help prevent deportation if they fail
Aerial view of the aftermath of the explosion at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and the burnt out taxi today
The hospital blast was near to Liverpool Cathedral – seen in the background close to the Mersey today – with some claiming he may have initially planned to hit the Remembrance Sunday service there
Hundreds of migrants have been arriving in the UK every day from France as Priti Patel struggles to get hold of the crisis
It came as new statistics revealed that between January 2020 and June this year, 91% of migrants came from 10 countries where human rights abuses – including Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen. These are also nations named in the top 20 countries where Christians are the most persecuted for following Jesus.
How 40,000 failed asylum seekers are STILL waiting to be deported from the UK and the number being forced to leave Britain has dropped to just 8,000-a-year from almost 50,000 in 2013
This chart shows the number of enforced and voluntary deportations of asylum seekers over the past decade. The numbers have dropped across the board to under 8,000 in total in 2020 – down from close to 50,000 in 2013
The number of failed asylum seekers being deported from the UK fell to a record low of under 8,000 last year – down almost 40,000-a-year in eight years, MailOnline can reveal today.
Official Home Office figures show that tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers are still waiting to be sent back to the country of their birth – and cases are taking longer to complete because of the number of appeals.
In 2013 around 47,000 failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals were deported. This dropped to a low of 8,000 last year, with covid, in part, being blamed for the record low last year.
UK Border figures from June show that there are currently 125,000 asylum cases outstanding in Britain.
Of these 5,900 people, including Almeni until his death, were awaiting the outcome of an appeal. Some have been waiting for years.
Approximately 39,500 people are still waiting to be deported.
There have between 19,000 and 35,000 new asylum applications a year for the past 17 years. In that period the number of applications rejected has dropped from 74% in 2004 to 46% in 2019. But this jumped back to 70% in 2020.
Around three-quarters of applicants refused asylum at initial decision lodged an appeal and almost one third of those appeals were allowed.
There are calls for the Home Office to review their policies and practices in the wake of the attack after it emerged suicide bomber Enzo Almeni, 32, had been in the UK for seven years without gaining permanent residency.
The Home Office has previously said converting to Christianity does not automatically result in a successful asylum claim. The Church of England has said baptism is ‘open to all’ and that it is up to the Government to vet asylum seekers, not them.
But Sam Ashworth-Hayes, of the counter-extremist Henry Jackson Society, said: ‘We know that people are willing to lie to win asylum up to and including faking religious conversions. This is incentivised by the asylum system, which does not do enough to root out fakes.’
Malcolm Hitchcott, who with his wife Elizabeth took in Almeni for almost a year and supported his conversion to Christianity, was also a lay preacher at Liverpool Cathedral who has previously been ‘forthright’ in his views that ‘some Iranians might pretend to have found Jesus in order to support a false claim for asylum’.
But he believed Almeni was genuine and would ‘talk endlessly and passionately about Jesus’ and said he and his wife had loved him.
Evidence he gave to the Home Office in other asylum cases said that ‘the fact that some people might seek to abuse the trust of the Church has made him scrutinise the behaviour of the Iranian worshippers’, admitting that he would look out for un-Christian behaviour such as swearing and sexual language.
A report said: ‘He watches how they behave outside of formal services and meetings, and if this is found to be incongruous with their claim to be Christians, Lt Col Hitchcott would not support their asylum claims.
‘He gave the example of one man whose demeanour at meetings was markedly different from that outside; whilst quiet and respectful in company he had been overheard in the men’s bathroom using overtly sexual language and swearing.’
Mr Hitchcott mentioned the same issue during another appeal two years later.
Documents relating to the case show that he said: ‘I am aware that there are some asylum seekers who attend church with the sole purpose of advancing their asylum claims. However, their motives are usually easily exposed when their lifestyle and their professed faith are at odds with one another.’
The Church of England is facing questions over asylum seekers such as the Liverpool bomber lying about converting to Christianity so they could be awarded refugee status.
Poppy Day bomber Emad Al Swealmeen was baptised in 2015 at Liverpool Cathedral and went on to be confirmed in 2017 after his claim for asylum was rejected in 2014. But the cathedral ‘lost contact’ with him the following year – with the bishop who carried out his confirmation service saying yesterday he had ‘no specific recollection’ of Al Swealmeen.
It emerged yesterday that Al Swealmeen was baptised as a Christian at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral in 2015, one of around 200 asylum seekers to adopt the faith there over a four-year period.
It is understood this did not play a role in his asylum claims. But conversions are ‘standard practice’ among some asylum seekers, in particular those from Iran and Iraq, who seek to ‘game the system’, Home Office sources said.
A counter-extremism think-tank last night called for an investigation into the ‘Liverpool Cathedral convert cluster’.
Rev Mohammad Eghtedarian said in 2016: ‘People are desperate for a better life and sometimes they will lie for it – that’s understandable.
‘There are many people abusing the system… I’m not ashamed of saying that. But is it the person’s fault or the system’s fault? And who are they deceiving? The Home Office, me as a pastor, or God?’
The previous year a lay minister at the cathedral – who would later take in Al Swealmeen – also warned that some asylum seekers ‘attend church with the sole purpose of advancing their asylum claims’.
The Liverpool hospital bomber exploited the UK’s asylum ‘merry-go-round’, Priti Patel said last night. Emad Al Swealmeen lost his bid to stay in Britain in 2014 but still had an appeal outstanding when he blew himself up on Sunday
The appeal meant the Home Office was unable to deport him in the intervening seven years. Above: The aftermath of the blast outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital
More than 1,000 migrants are thought to have crossed to Britain in small boats yesterday. Traffickers were seen leading hopefuls carrying dinghies to the water at first light without a French patrol in sight on a beach at Wimereux near Boulogne
Poppy Day suicide bomber planned attack for months after starting to buy ingredients for homemade device in April
The suicide bomber who blew himself and a taxi up outside a Liverpool maternity hospital on Remembrance Sunday began building his killer device seven months ago, it was revealed today.
Police have also yet to find any evidence that failed asylum seeker Emad Al Swealmeen, 32, conspired with or was inspired by a terror group, suggesting he was a ‘lone wolf’ who became radicalised online during lockdown.
One theory is that the bomber was suffering a mental health crisis having been devastated at his continued failure to gain asylum here because the Home Office refused to believe he was Syrian. Today it emerged his next of kin have told police he was born in Iraq.
In an update on the investigation Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson, Head of Counter Terrorism Policing North West, said that the pizza chef who converted from Islam to Christianity began renting his flat in Rutland Avenue, Liverpool at around Easter.
ACC Jackson said: ‘A complex picture is emerging over the purchases of the component parts of the device, we know that Al Swealmeen rented the property from April this year and we believe relevant purchases have been made at least since that time’.
He added: ‘At this time we are not finding any link to others in the Merseyside area of concern but this remains a fast moving investigation and as more becomes known we cannot rule out action against others’.
At the time of Al-Swealmeen’s baptism, Liverpool Cathedral was in the midst of a successful drive to both boost its congregation and embrace prospective converts.
More than 130 new converts of Iranian origin alone were baptised, with a total of 200 asylum seekers converting there between 2012 and 2016.
Liverpool was then a dispersal centre for asylum seekers, with volunteers helping to mentor new arrivals and help them access charity facilities and food banks.
In 2016 the Very Rev Peter Wilcox, then Dean of Liverpool and now Bishop of Sheffield, admitted some had ‘mixed motives’, adding: ‘Once you are a baptised Christian it is really not conceivable that you would be deported to a Muslim country.’ At the end of that year, Church Commissioners agreed £1million of funding to roll out the Anglican cathedral’s ‘multiplying congregations’ scheme across the diocese. And Liverpool Cathedral’s weekly average aggregate attendance had also risen to 702, from 438 in 2013.
Insiders stressed that the two-year ‘examination process’ of Christian conversion was ‘rigorous’ and designed to weed out opportunists.
Those applying for asylum go on to be challenged ‘strongly’ on their faith by the Home Office to check it is genuine. Al Swealmeen completed the evangelical Alpha course on Christianity at Liverpool Cathedral and after his conversion is said to have talked passionately about Jesus.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm Hitchcott, 77, who took in Al Swealmeen after he converted, said: ‘When he came to live with us it was a very good opportunity to give him a genuine spiritual assessment.’
Al-Swealmeen – who weeks later changed his name by deed poll to Enzo Almeni – was ‘very well-founded in the scriptures’, prayed for at least half an hour a day and attended the Sunday service each week at the cathedral, he added.
The current Dean of Liverpool Cathedral last night suggested Al Swealmeen’s faith had been genuine, saying two years was a ‘long time’ to attend church for asylum reasons alone. The Very Rev Sue Jones added: ‘We can’t have responsibility for everyone. What we offer here is a safe space for asylum seekers.’
Bishop Cyril Ashton, who conducted Al Swealmeen’s confirmation service, said: ‘The church takes confirmation seriously… It seems that, sadly, the bomber chose a different path for his life.’
The cathedral is being treated as a potential target by counter-terror police. Its Remembrance Day service was taking place a mile from Liverpool Women’s Hospital at 11am on Sunday.
He is not the first Christian convert to launch a terror attack after being refused asylum. Khairi Saadallah, who killed three men in a rampage in a Reading park in June last year, converted to Christianity more than a year before the attack. He twice failed to win asylum in 2012.
Al Swealmeen is understood to have moved legally to the UK in 2014 from Dubai, where he spent his teenage years after allegedly being abused by his Syrian father.
Later that year his initial asylum application was turned down. It is understood his claim was ‘not compliant’ with Home Office rules. Al Swealmeen, who changed his name to Enzo Almeni after becoming a Christian, made a fresh asylum application in 2017 but this was rejected two years later.
His legal challenges were still under way when he died in the failed bomb attack.
More than 1,000 migrants are thought to have crossed to Britain in small boats yesterday. Traffickers were seen leading hopefuls carrying dinghies to the water at first light without a French patrol in sight.
Hundreds began arriving on the Kent coast from 8am, with boatloads turning up all day and into the evening.
Pledging to overhaul the asylum system, Home Secretary Miss Patel declared: ‘The case in Liverpool was a complete reflection of how dysfunctional, how broken, the system has been in the past, and why I want to bring changes forward
The Church of England was last night facing questions over asylum seekers such as the Liverpool bomber lying about converting to Christianity so they could be awarded refugee status. Above: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
With investigators yet to find any evidence that the Liverpool Women’s Hospital bomber had terror links:
- One theory is that frustration over his asylum battle resulted in Al Swealmeen having a mental health crisis;
- But sources said no one raised the alarm about the 32-year-old’s behaviour;
- Detectives have determined that he did not use triacetone triperoxide, an explosive known as ‘Mother of Satan’;
- Friends revealed the would-be pizza chef was so car mad that he nicknamed himself ‘GT’ – for ‘gran turismo’ – and was obsessed with the singer Johnny Cash;
- Police released without charge four men in their 20s who were arrested under terrorism laws following Sunday’s attack.
The revelations about how Al Swealmeen was able to remain in the UK raise serious concerns over flaws in the asylum process that can undermine national security.
A former minister said the case strengthened the Government’s argument for tearing up the Human Rights Act to make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers.
‘This looks like an awful example of what happens when bogus asylum seekers are not sent back and their minds turn to terror,’ said Tory MP Sir John Hayes.
‘Who knows what other horrors we are importing with this broken system?’
He said the Act allowed ‘people, aided and abetted by fat cat legal aid lawyers and bleeding heart liberals to delay proceedings with spurious claims for years’.
Migration Watch UK, which campaigns for tougher border controls, said the case could be the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Alp Mehmet, the group’s chairman, added: ‘It points to the dysfunctional depths into which our shattered asylum system has sunk.
‘Why this person was not removed or detained having been denied asylum is utterly baffling. We need to know.’
David Videcette, a former 7/7 counter-terror detective at Scotland Yard, said it was time for ‘grown-up conversations’ about the potential threat from failed asylum seekers.
‘There are repeated examples across Europe of terrorists infiltrating migrant flows,’ he said. ‘Then, when found out, after exhausting the asylum appeals system, they resort to type and attack their host country at that point.
Emad Jamil Al Swealmeen, 32, (left) was killed after a homemade ball-bearing device exploded inside a taxi he rode to Liverpool Women’s Hospital on Remembrance Sunday just seconds before the 11am minute’s silence. He changed his name to Enzo Almeni and was taken in by a British Christian couple left heartbroken by his attack (pictured right with Malcolm Hitchcott)
LIVERPOOL BOMBER ‘A GENUINE CHRISTIAN’
A couple who took in the suspect in the Liverpool Remembrance Sunday bomb attack believed he was an ‘absolutely genuine’ Christian who had a ‘real passion for Jesus Christ’.
Emad Al Swealmeen, who was a Christian convert, was taken in by Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott in 2017.
Mr Hitchcott said Al Swealmeen first contacted the couple after his asylum appeal was dismissed and was ‘desperate’ for somewhere to stay.
He told BBC Radio Merseyside: ‘He arrived here on April 1, 2017. He was with us then for eight months, and during that time we saw him really blossoming in regards to his Christian faith.
‘He really had a passion about Jesus that I wish many Christians had, and he was ready to learn.
‘He was keen on reading his Bible and every night we used to pray – my wife and him, and if there was anybody else in the house – we prayed for half an hour or so and studied the scriptures. We had a great time together.’
Mr Hitchcott added: ‘He was absolutely genuine, as far as I could tell. When you live with somebody in a small terraced house… you learn an awful lot about people and how their habits are, how they relate to one another, the things they think about, it’s a good assessing ground.
‘I was in no doubt by the time that he left us at the end of that eight months that he was a Christian.’
The 32-year-old died in the blast in a taxi outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital shortly before 11am on Remembrance Sunday.
‘There has to be a better system for dealing with thousands of unknown people, with no documents, claiming they are someone or something they are not.’
Al Swealmeen is understood to have moved legally to the UK in 2014 from Dubai, where he spent his teenage years after allegedly being abused by his Syrian father.
Later that year his initial asylum application was turned down. It is understood his claim was ‘not compliant’ with Home Office rules.
But he lodged a succession of appeals against the ministry’s decisions to deny him refugee status.
In 2015 he was baptised as a Christian at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral, one of around 200 asylum seekers to adopt the faith there over a four-year period.
Counter-terror police are now treating the cathedral as a potential target.
It was hosting a Remembrance Day service when Al Swealmeen’s bomb partially detonated a mile away in a minicab outside the maternity hospital.
His legal challenges were still under way when he died in the failed bomb attack. It is understood Al Swealmeen’s adoption of Christianity did not play a role in his asylum claims.
But conversions are ‘standard practice’ among some asylum seekers, in particular those from Iran and Iraq, who seek to ‘game the system’ to avoid removal from the UK, sources said.
Al Swealmeen, who changed his name to Enzo Almeni after becoming a Christian, made a fresh asylum application in 2017 but this was rejected two years later.
Forensic officers yesterday continued the delicate task of searching the ‘bomb factory’ in Rutland Avenue, Liverpool, which Al Swealmeen rented in apparent preparation for the attack.
North-west counter-terror chief Russ Jackson said the investigation was moving ‘at a fast pace’.
Miss Patel has pledged the biggest shake-up of immigration laws in a generation. Her plans include strict limits on the types of asylum appeals that applicants can use.
- Additional reporting: Liz Hull, Emine Sinmaz and Rebecca Camber
POPPY DAY HOSPITAL EXPLOSION: HOW EVENTS UNFOLDED ON REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY
Sunday, November 14
10.57am: The taxi pulls up at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and explodes seconds later.
10.59am: The vehicle is fully engulfed just before the national silence for Remembrance Sunday.
The passenger was killed and the driver was left with serious injuries. The latter is said to have spotted the explosives, ‘jumped’ from the car and locked the other man inside.
At the time, a remembrance service involving scores of military personnel, veterans and civic dignitaries, was taking place at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral less than a mile away. There are reports the taxi parked at the hospital because it could not get any closer to the Cathedral.
11.04am: Police and emergency services arrive at the scene, and it is initially thought the car might have caught alight because of a fuel leak.
1pm: Officers, who are believed to have spoken to hero taxi driver David Perry, announce the incident is being treated as an act of terrorism.
4.54pm: Police seal off Rutland Avenue (right). Around a mile from the blast. Locals said armed police ordered residents to leave and head to a nearby leisure centre, saying the area ‘wasn’t safe’ and were ‘pointing guns at a house’. Counter-terror negotiators were also called to the scene.
6.59pm: The men – aged 29, 26, and 21 – were detained in the Kensington area of the city and arrested under the Terrorism Act.
Monday, November 15
3.30am: The operation at the Rutland Avenue address appears to wind down.
10am: Footage of the explosion emerges on CCTV from the scene.
Midday: Police confirm it is being treated as a terror attack. And a man, 20, becomes the fourth suspect arrested
3pm: After raising the UK terror threat level to ‘severe’, speaking at a press conference at Downing Street, the Prime Minister said the blast was a ‘stark reminder’ to the public to remain vigilant, adding: ‘What yesterday showed above all is that the British people will never be cowed by terrorism, we will never give in to those who seek to divide us with senseless acts of violence.
‘And our freedoms and our way of life will always prevail.’
7pm: MailOnline names the suicide bomber as asylum seeker Enzo Almeni, 32, a Muslim who converted to Christianity four years ago. He changed his name from Emad Jamil Al Swealmeen.
Tuesday November 16
7am: Four suspects who are said to have known Almeni a and were arrested in armed raids were released without charge
Published at Wed, 17 Nov 2021 12:36:05 +0000