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Asylum seekers getting Christian tattoos of Jesus to bolster conversion claims, stay in UK

Christian refugees
Reuters/Yves Herman

Asylum seekers in the United Kingdom are getting tattoos of crucifixes and Jesus to falsely claim they are converts to Christianity and bolster their case to attain British citizenship, which some suggest could be the reason why the Liverpool bomber in last week’s attack was identified as a Christian convert.

People smugglers have used social media advertisements for their services claiming conversion to Christianity will get asylum seekers British citizenship more quickly, The U.K. Times reports, saying its reporters saw one ad on Instagram in which a people smuggling network wrote that conversion is a way to enable successful asylum claims “in the shortest possible time with the lowest cost.”

The Telegraph reports it has found that asylum seekers are getting tattoos of crucifixes and Jesus to “prove” their conversion and argue that they cannot be sent back to the Middle East or their home country where Christians are persecuted.

In immigration appeal judgments over the last five years, tattoos connected to Christianity, atheism and homosexuality have been mentioned by those fighting to stay in the U.K. more than 20 times, the newspaper added.

The reports come days after counter-terrorism police identified an Iraq-born 32-year-old asylum seeker, Emad al Swealmeen, as the person who detonated an improvised explosive device, killing himself and injuring a driver in a taxicab outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital last Sunday morning.

According to court records, Al Swealmeen was first refused asylum in 2014 and also lost further appeals in 2015, the BBC reported, adding that in August 2015, he started seeking to convert to Christianity and adopted a new name, Enzo Almeni, as part of the conversion.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told media earlier that Al Swealmeen seemed to have exploited the “merry-go-round” that is the U.K.’s “broken” asylum system as he made various claims in an attempt to remain in the country.

“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,” she was quoted as saying. “It’s a complete merry-go-round and it has been exploited. A whole sort of professional legal services industry has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day-in day-out at the expense of the taxpayers through legal aid. That is effectively what we need to change.”

Al Swealmeen was confirmed as a Christian at Liverpool Cathedral in March 2017, according to the U.K. Times, which said multiple accounts from members of the city’s Anglican congregation said that he had appeared to be a genuine and committed Christian.

Al Swealmeen attended Sunday services for the Farsi-speaking community, led by one Mohammad Eghtedarian at the time, before he broke links with Liverpool Cathedral, the newspaper added.

Eghtedarian was quoted as saying in 2016 that there were “mixed motives” for converting and some had abused the system. “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?”

Tom Harris, a former Labour Party lawmaker, wrote in an op-ed in the Telegraph that in 2001,  he was among the parliamentarians briefed by Home Office officials and ministers about people traffickers involved in the migrants’ journey from the Middle East to Britain.

“The first step was destroying any identifying documents: after all, an asylum seeker claiming to be from war-torn Afghanistan rather than from Egypt or Iran would stand a better chance of a filing a successful application for refugee status,” he wrote.

“But a crucial piece of advice offered to many claimants by their traffickers was to get involved in a local church as soon as they made their initial asylum claim and were allocated their temporary accommodation. A full-on conversion to Christianity was even better, though not always necessary; British people who attend church were, it was assumed, much more likely to take up the cases of asylum seekers and advocate on behalf of those who made the effort to attend services along with their families.”

A Home Office source told The U.K. Times earlier that Al Swealmeen tried to use his conversion to Christianity in his attempt to gain asylum, which is a common tactic used by Iranians and Iraqi asylum seekers to “game the system.”

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