The Church of England was last night facing questions over asylum seekers such as the Liverpool bomber lying about converting to Christianity so they could be awarded refugee status.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was appalled at what she branded as the ‘merry-go-round’ of failed asylum seekers exploiting a ‘dysfunctional’ system.
Poppy Day bomber Emad Al Swealmeen was baptised in 2015 at Liverpool Cathedral and went on to be confirmed in 2017 – after his claim for asylum was rejected in 2014.
But the cathedral ‘lost contact’ with him the following year – with the bishop who carried out his confirmation service saying yesterday he had ‘no specific recollection’ of Al Swealmeen.
Rev Mohammed Eghtedarian, a clergyman at the cathedral, admitted in 2016 that ‘plenty of people’ were lying about their intentions after it also emerged that the Church of England had christened hundreds of asylum seekers under a scheme dubbed ‘pray to stay’.
Al Swealmeen had reportedly repeatedly appealed after his asylum claim was rejected and had a legal challenge outstanding when he blew himself up on Sunday.
Malcolm Hitchcott, who with his wife Elizabeth took him in for almost a year, said: ‘The UK asylum people were never convinced he was Syrian and he was refused asylum in 2014.
‘He had his case rejected because he has been sectioned due to some mental health incident where he was waving a knife at people from an overpass’.
Mr Hitchcott, a former lay minister at Liverpool Cathedral, previously expressed concern about asylum seekers pretending to convert to bolster their visa applications.
But he believes Almeni was genuine and would ‘talk endlessly and passionately about Jesus’.
A spokesman for the Church of England told the Telegraph that it was not the role of the clergy ‘to establish the legitimacy of asylum claims and to assess security implications’.
They added: ‘We are not aware of any evidence to suggest a widespread correlation between conversion to Christianity, or any other faith, and abuse of the asylum system.’
A spokesman for Liverpool Cathedral said the church had developed ‘robust processes’ for spotting if someone is not genuine when committing to Christianity.
A clergyman at Liverpool Cathedral previously raised concerns about asylum seekers cynically posing as Christians to boost their chances of being awarded refugee status. Poppy Day bomber Emad Al Swealmeen (Pictured right) was baptised in 2015 at the cathedral and went on to be confirmed in 2017
There is no reason to suggest that Al Swealmeen’s conversion from Islam was not genuine, and sources stressed his baptism was not a factor in his repeated asylum claims.
However, a counter-extremism think-tank last night called for an investigation into the ‘Liverpool Cathedral convert cluster’.
Rev Eghtedarian said in 2016: ‘People are desperate for a better life and sometimes they will lie for it – that’s understandable.
‘There are many people abusing the system… I’m not ashamed of saying that. 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?’
The Church of England was last night facing questions over asylum seekers such as the Liverpool bomber lying about converting to Christianity so they could be awarded refugee status. Above: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
The Home Office has previously said converting to Christianity does not automatically result in a successful asylum claim.
The Church of England has said baptism is ‘open to all’.
But Sam Ashworth-Hayes, of the counter-extremist Henry Jackson Society, said: ‘We know that people are willing to lie to win asylum up to and including faking religious conversions.
‘This is incentivised by the asylum system, which does not do enough to root out fakes.’
At the time of Al-Swealmeen’s baptism, Liverpool Cathedral was in the midst of a successful drive to both boost its congregation and embrace prospective converts.
More than 130 new converts of Iranian origin alone were baptised, with a total of 200 asylum seekers converting there between 2012 and 2016.
The Home Office has previously said converting to Christianity does not automatically result in a successful asylum claim. The Church of England has said baptism is ‘open to all’. Emad Al Swealmeen (Pictured)
Liverpool was then a dispersal centre for asylum seekers, with volunteers helping to mentor new arrivals and help them access charity facilities and food banks.
In 2016 the Very Rev Peter Wilcox, then Dean of Liverpool and now Bishop of Sheffield, admitted some had ‘mixed motives’, adding: ‘Once you are a baptised Christian it is really not conceivable that you would be deported to a Muslim country.’
At the end of that year, Church Commissioners agreed £1million of funding to roll out the Anglican cathedral’s ‘multiplying congregations’ scheme across the diocese.
And Liverpool Cathedral’s weekly average aggregate attendance had also risen to 702, from 438 in 2013.
Insiders stressed that the two-year ‘examination process’ of Christian conversion was ‘rigorous’ and designed to weed out opportunists.
Those applying for asylum go on to be challenged ‘strongly’ on their faith by the Home Office to check it is genuine.
Al Swealmeen completed the evangelical Alpha course on Christianity at Liverpool Cathedral and after his conversion is said to have talked passionately about Jesus.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm Hitchcott, 77, who took in Al Swealmeen after he converted, said: ‘When he came to live with us it was a very good opportunity to give him a genuine spiritual assessment.’
Al-Swealmeen – who weeks later changed his name by deed poll to Enzo Almeni – was ‘very well-founded in the scriptures’, prayed for at least half an hour a day and attended the Sunday service each week at the cathedral, he added.
The current Dean of Liverpool Cathedral last night suggested Al Swealmeen’s faith had been genuine, saying two years was a ‘long time’ to attend church for asylum reasons alone.
The Very Rev Sue Jones added: ‘We can’t have responsibility for everyone. What we offer here is a safe space for asylum seekers.’
Bishop Cyril Ashton, who conducted Al Swealmeen’s confirmation service, said: ‘The church takes confirmation seriously… It seems that, sadly, the bomber chose a different path for his life.’
The cathedral is being treated as a potential target by counter-terror police. Its Remembrance Day service was taking place a mile from Liverpool Women’s Hospital at 11am on Sunday.