Asylum seekers are getting tattoos of crucifixes and Jesus to “prove” they have converted to Christianity and cannot be returned to the Middle East, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
Analysis of immigration appeal judgments shows tattoos connected to Christianity, atheism and homosexuality have been cited more than 20 times in the last five years by those fighting to stay in the UK.
The body art has been used to argue they risk persecution if returned to Muslim countries, where relinquishing the Islamic faith or being gay can be a crime.
Last week, the Church was forced to defend its conversion processes after Emad al-Swealmeen, 32, blew himself up in Liverpool after converting to Christianity to bolster his asylum application.
After the bomb attack Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, criticised how the “merry-go-round” asylum process was being exploited by the legal services using legal aid.
Tattoos argued to be genuine reflections of faith
While asylum seekers who get such tattoos repeatedly secure the right to remain, one judge sitting in Bradford in 2018 condemned a 25-year-old Iranian man who obtained religious tattoos.
The ruling found that his tattoo did not represent “a genuine reflection of the appellant’s faith”. It said he should be returned to Iran because the tattoo could be removed, covered up or that he could tell Iranian authorities the truth – “namely that he had pretended converting to Christianity in order to bolster his claim for international protection”.
In contrast, a Birmingham hearing in 2018 allowed an Iranian man with “amateur” tattoos of a crucifix, Jesus and the Virgin Mary to remain. This was despite an earlier hearing concluding that his conversion was “false” and images “obtained for the sole purpose of enhancing his chances” of securing his asylum.
He was allowed to stay “on human rights grounds”, because “he cannot be expected to remove…or cover up…the tattoo to avoid persecution”.
In February this year, an appeal against deportation was allowed after a Kurdish Iranian abandoned his Islamic faith to become an atheist rapper.
The 30-year-old man showed the tribunal his “American Atheist” tattoo, an atomic swirl denoting a rejection of all religious beliefs and a reliance on scientific analysis.
After he arrived in the UK, Mrs Patel rejected his claims to be an atheist or rapper whose anti-Iranian songs had been posted on social media.
But the judge, sitting in London, concluded “the appellant’s tattoo signposts his atheist leanings and he cannot be expected to lie about what it is, or why he has it.” He was allowed to remain in the UK.
Last year, a 26-year-old Iranian man who said he converted to Christianity and fled to the UK was allowed to stay because the judge sitting in Manchester found “he has a mark of faith, a large tattoo”.
The case, in which a clergywoman told how she was satisfied his conversion was authentic, illustrates how some churches have enjoyed a boost to congregation numbers due to the numbers of asylum seekers looking to convert.
The tribunal heard how more than 130 people from 37 countries attended special services, with at least 70 of them being Iranian.