Call for Home Office to protect rights of non-religious asylum seekers

By agency reporter
December 12, 2018

Non-religious asylum seekers face torture or death if they are denied asylum in the UK and forced to return to their home countries, an event in Parliament has heard. The All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group hosted Protecting non-religious people’s rights to asylum in the UK.

The event opened with International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) President and Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson speaking about the worsening plight of human rights for non-religious people around the world.

IHEU’s 2018 Freedom of Thought Report released recently shows 13 countries where blasphemy or apostasy is punishable by death.

Freedom of religion or belief, including for humanists, is often poorly upheld in the asylum process in the UK, despite the right being enshrined in national and international law.

To combat this, Humanists UK has been working with the Home Office to introduce mandatory training on freedom of religion or belief (including humanism) to asylum seekers assessors. The training is expected to be delivered from early 2019.

The event also heard troubling stories from two asylum seekers who have been denied asylum in the UK.

Hamza bin Walayat is a humanist Pakistani asylum seeker who was denied asylum because he couldn’t identify Plato and Aristotle as humanists (despite the fact that neither were humanists). Humanists UK has supported his case by organising a petition to 10 Downing Street and will be supporting his upcoming appeal.

In Pakistan, the most basic rights of humanists and non-religious people are restricted daily and non-religious people face jail, mob brutality, murder, torture or the death penalty.

Mohamed Elshahat Aly, a humanist Egyptian who has also been denied asylum, spoke of his fear of returning to Egypt, where blasphemy and apostasy is a criminal offence. Egypt also looks set to pass a new law criminalising not believing in god.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: "To have the freedom to talk about one’s experience and beliefs as a non-religious person should be an integral part of our human experience but in countries like Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia these very basic rights could result in jail, torture or death.

"As we have heard today, the lives of asylum seekers are at risk if they are forced to return to their country where it is a crime to be a humanist or a non-religious person. We hope through the upcoming training programme that the Home Office will uphold more people’s rights to freedom of religion or belief, which is enshrined in national and international law."

* Read the Freedom of Thought Report here

* Humanists UK https://humanism.org.uk/

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