Opinion Former Article

Success! Humanists UK begins delivering training to Home Office staff on asylum claims

Home Office caseworkers have begun receiving mandatory training on religion or belief asylum claims from Humanists UK experts, in a move that will improve officials’ understanding of humanist and non-religious asylum applications.

Humanists UK, the national charity working on behalf of the non-religious, is one of a number of religion or belief groups which helped write the training materials and is now training staff on asylum claims. The new training follows Humanists UK working extensively with officials to produce the materials for over a year now.

Working alongside the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Asylum Advocacy Group, it had extensive input into the trainees’ handbook and other associated materials, ensuring that all are fully inclusive.

The materials outline religion or belief-based persecution as an asylum ground, freedom of religion or belief around the world, relevant case law, and provide extensive case studies, with the non-religious included equally throughout. The materials make clear that non-religious people hold positive beliefs that are equally protected under human rights law, and that the absence of a particular religion or belief is also protected. Pilot training began last month, with a full roll-out shortly underway. Humanists UK intends for a staff member to take part in providing every training session.

The ‘Save Hamza’ campaign

The introduction of the first mandatory training of this kind came about after Humanists UK brought to light the high-profile case of Hamza bin Walayat, a Pakistani humanist asylum seeker who was refused asylum by the Home Office for his failure to recognise ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle as humanists (in spite of the fact that both were religious).

Humanists UK launched a campaign in support of Hamza, which included organising a letter from 150 philosophers and a petition with more than 12,500 signatures to the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd, as well as getting the matter repeatedly raised in Parliament and through the media. Humanists UK also provided extensive evidence to Hamza’s claim for asylum.

Hamza, who renounced Islam, received death threats and evidence showed that he would likely face death if he was returned to Pakistan. While his decision was this week overturned, the case highlighted the Home Office’s deeply flawed understanding of the nature of non-religious worldviews. The new materials should help set that straight.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘We have been working with the Home Office for over a year now to introduce training materials so that asylum assessors have the information and knowledge needed to correctly assess genuine asylum claims of humanists and non-religious people.

‘People’s lives can be put at serious risk if assessors get it wrong. We expect the introduction of this mandatory training will lead to more informed decision-making of non-religious asylum claims and make it a much fairer system for those fleeing persecution and coming to the UK.’

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to improving the quality and accuracy of decision-making to ensure we get decisions right the first time.

‘The Home Office is working closely with members of the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, as well representatives from a range of faith and belief groups, to provide specialist mandatory training. The aim of this is to ensure decision makers appropriately consider all the available evidence where religion or belief is raised in an asylum claim.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about the Hamza story here: https://humanism.org.uk/2019/05/15/hamza-has-finally-been-granted-asylum-after-humanists-rallied-to-save-his-life/

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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