The UK Government value the role of faith in public life in the UK, and protecting religious freedom abroad is important, including in achieving the UK’s vision of a more secure and prosperous United Kingdom with its overseas partners. Within UK Visas and Immigration asylum casework, we continue to engage a range of faith groups to improve our policy guidance and training provided to decision makers, so that we approach claims involving religious persecution and conversion to a particular faith in the appropriate way.
Will the Minister set up a specialised unit in the Home Office so that we can have some religious literacy on this matter? Nuns and priests seeking to come from Iraq have been asked why they do not have a bank account, with officials seemingly unaware that they have made vows of poverty. A sister from Qaraqosh in Iraq is a perfect example: seeking to visit her sick sister, she was asked why she had not visited her since 2011. Officials were seemingly unaware that ISIS had forced her to flee from her convent and to flee for her life. Please may we have more religious literacy from our officials?
When it comes to visitor visas, it is of course important that each case is decided on its own merits, but my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am very happy to work with him, so that there can be better training for visa caseworkers so that they understand the specific points he makes about those from religious communities who may have taken a particular vow of poverty.
The Minister was here for Prayers, so I am sure she will be able to answer the question asked of one of my constituents, whom the Home Office initially wanted to send back to a country where he was persecuted: how many books are there in the Old Testament?
I very much regret that despite a good convent education we studied only the New Testament, and I simply do not know.
It was very useful nevertheless to learn about the Minister’s educational journey, which she regales the House with in a candid spirit.