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Government launches investigation into migrants' Christian conversions as '40 men on Bibby Stockholm get baptised'
9 February 2024, 11:38
The Home Office has launched an investigation after claims emerged that 40 men on the Bibby Stockholm asylum seeker barge are being baptised into Christianity.
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Muslim men on board the vessel in Portland, Dorset, have engaged with Weymouth Baptist Church about the faith.
But as police continue to hunt Clapham attack suspect Abdul Ezedi, an Afghan who got asylum after claiming conversion to Christianity, fears have emerged that religion is being used to bolster immigration claims.
Sussex MP Tim Loughton asked in Parliament on Wednesday: "The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that since taking office, the attendance at the Church of England has dropped by 15% and in the 10 years to Covid, the number of baptisms in the Church of England has fallen from 140,000-a-year to 87,000.
"So Christianity in the UK seems to be on the wane unless apparently, you are from a Muslim country in the middle of an asylum claim.
"We're now told one in seven occupants of the Bibby Stockholm have suddenly become practising Christians.
"Can I ask the Prime Minister that given that the Church of England has now issued secret guidance for clergy supporting asylum applications for these Damascene conversions, who is the Church accountable to and are taxpayers being scammed by the Archbishop?"
Rishi Sunak told him James Cleverly, the home secretary, has asked for more information about conversions.
Leaving for another religion is an extremely serious act in Islam, and a person can claim they should secure asylum on the basis of facing persecution should they be sent back to their home country.
In a statement on its website, Weymouth Baptist Church said: "Since October 2023 we have welcomed asylum seekers from the Bibby Stockholm barge which is moored in Portland.
"We work collaboratively with other local churches in a range of activities, including ministry to men from the Bibby Stockholm.
"Currently approximately forty asylum seekers regularly attend services in one church or another, with an average of twenty five to thirty coming to our Sunday services.
"Translation apps for their mobile phones help their participation. Men also attend a weekly inter-church Bible study in Farsi (most of the attendees currently come from Iran) led by a British person who speaks the language and knows their culture.
"There is also an afternoon of refreshments and chat. The Gospel has a concern for compassion, justice and welcoming the stranger, but this does not equate to naivety nor complicity in disingenuous asylum claims. Such claims harm those whose claim is real."
It goes on to say that almost all of the men they speak to "became Christian in their native countries, all of which are known to be hostile to the Christian faith" where it would be too dangerous to get baptised.
It said seven have already been baptised since arriving in October, having had the ceremony performed in different churches across the country. The others are said to have undergone a 10 week evangelical course.
But the church added that a number of believers have worked with and "got to know" the asylum seekers which "minimises the risk of a disingenuous person being baptised".
Dave Rees, an elder at the church, said "there's no reason we would doubt these asylum seekers".
Ezedi, who arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry, managed to secure asylum after a priest said he had wholly committed to Christianity.
He was allowed to stay despite having a conviction for sexual assault and exposure.
There is fury that he was allowed to stay in the UK to go on and throw a corrosive substance at a 31-year-old mother he was in a relationship with.
Ezedi still has not been found, with police suspecting he may have been helped by others or could even have ended up in the Thames having received potentially fatal wounds to his face.