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Seeking asylum

Watch humanist Hamza bin Walayat describe the challenges of claiming asylum on non-religious grounds
So, at the moment, as far as we’re aware, we are the only organisation in the UK which is supporting asylum claims from non-religious claimants in the UK. So, these are people who are apostates, people who’ve generally left very conservative or coercive religious groups in their home countries. They have come to the UK now claiming asylum, because if returned to their home countries they would either face the risk of violence or state-sponsored persecution. My name is Hamza bin Walayat. And I am a proud humanist. And I came from Pakistan. I’ve claimed asylum here. Hamza is a Pakistani national who came to this country wishing to be able to live a life he could be openly non-religious.
And applied to remain in the country on the basis that he would’ve face persecution back in Pakistan where conversion from Islam, apostasy, is a capital offense. I was not very happy, the way I was treated back in Pakistan because of the pressurising or the issues I was having with my family, my friends and people of the society. I mean, I had to live under a burden; I had to hide my personality. I mean I did not have any childhood. I used, you know, I spent my childhood getting punished, getting beaten up by my parents, by teachers and I didn’t have any friends. They used to, like, laugh at me.
And, I was, I didn’t did not have any friend whom I can express my views to, I can open up to like kids do normally. So that’s why I could not be myself and it was very horrible. I could not live like that. My life was in danger and still is in danger. And because obviously people who renounce their religion - there’s two terms for them like blasphemy and apostasy, but in Pakistan they treat both as a single term. And that is just - they are bound to be killed. That’s the concise answer they give anyone who renounces their religion or anyone who insults their religions, so that person is bound to be killed.
He applied for asylum in this country and as part of the process with the Home Office, was asked, quite frankly bizarre and inappropriate questions to try and demonstrate that he was a humanist, which included whether he knew about the theories of Plato and Aristotle as humanists. Firstly, you know, you probably as a person in the UK, if you grew up here and went through our education system, you would not encounter Plato and Aristotle unless you did A Level or first year degree Philosophy at university. And if you did that, you may be aware that both Plato and Aristotle were religious people; they were not anything to do with the founding of humanism. These people are not humanists.
It wasn’t a fair question. I think if you are asked 9 out of 10 people who call themselves humanists, what they knew about Plato or Aristotle, you would get a very limited response. So it seemed that Home Office hadn’t really done any proper research into humanism or other non-religious beliefs. And this had led them to an incorrect decision. I’ve been accused as a liar, and that I’m not a humanist. And, whereas, I don’t know. And they wanted me to prove that I am a humanist and what humanism is. Whereas they don’t even know what humanism is themselves.
So we decided that we would campaign on this to try and change the Home Office’s decision, so to appeal the refusal of Hamza. And secondly, to make sure that things like this didn’t happen again, that non-religious claimants should be able to have a reasonable shot at gaining asylum in a fair system. Humanists UK prepared a petition that was signed by over 12,500 people and that was submitted to the Prime Minister’s house. We started lobbying with other religion and belief groups at the Home Office for better guidance for the training of their decision-makers. And we have been successful in this. There is going to be a new Home Office training programme.
At the moment, we are submitting a fresh asylum claim on the basis of the new evidence and hopefully with the better training that’s now going to be going through the whole of the Home Office the same mistakes shouldn’t be occurring in the first instance.

Humanists UK support persons making asylum claims in the UK whose non-religious beliefs would put them at risk in their country of origin. They have supported Hamza bin Walayat’s claim since late 2017. Hamza has received death threats from members of his family and community in Pakistan because of his humanist beliefs and for his rejection of Islam (blasphemy is a crime that carries the death penalty in that country). He has a long-term British partner, and has made the UK his home since arriving in 2011.

Rachel Taggart-Ryan is Campaigns Officer at Humanists UK. She is responsible for providing support for asylum seekers who would face a significant risk of persecution because of their humanist beliefs if they were deported to their countries of origin. This involves providing expert country evidence to the Home Office and the Immigration Tribunals, and evidence that individual asylum seekers are non-religious. She also campaigns for better Home Office guidance on understanding non-religious worldviews, the persecution of the non-religious across the globe, and how to interview those who have left a religion.

Update: Hamza was finally granted asylum in May 2019, two years after initially applying, following a public campaign organised by Humanists UK.

Hamza commented on the Home Office’s reversal:

‘I am delighted that my application for asylum has finally been granted after years of living with uncertainty and constant stress. I have believed in humanist values since I was a child but as I grew up I realised how dangerous it was to share those views in a place like Pakistan.
‘I am extremely grateful for all the support I received from Humanists UK and their supporters who fought hard for me along with the work of my lawyers. I have also been amazed by the wider changes to asylum assessment that my case has brought about. I’m now looking forward to feeling more settled and getting on with my life.’
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.’
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