Credibility of Conversion - Assessment by the Dutch Immigration Service

This report examines case files of 2018. Special attention is being paid to the new working instruction WI 2018/10 for the assessment of the credibility of conversion that was published in July.

The report is a follow up of our Open Letter of May 2018 and our discussion of the new working instruction of August 2018, see the ‘Open Letter‘ page (in Dutch).

The report is written in English with a view of discussion at the 2019 European Religious Liberty Forum, 21-24 March, organised by the European Evangelical Alliance and Advocates Europe.

Summary

A religious conversion, e.g. from lslam to Christianity, can be a relevant element in an asylum application as the conversion may incur a serious risk of religious persecution in a number of countries of origin.

In the past, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) assessed the credibility of conversion of asylum seekers by a predominantly factual examination of, e.g. Bible knowledge, like in various other European countries. In 2012 IND improved their assessment procedures, now focussing much more on the motives for and the process of conversion, as well as on knowledge of the new faith and activities. However, further improvements were still wanting and following a Parliamentary motion to this end, IND published a new working instruction WI 2018/10 that case workers need to comply with in their assessments. The new working instruction can be seen as a further improvement, as it is more elaborate on the importance of applicant’s personal story: his social and cultural background and his experience.

In this report, the major elements of the working instruction are summarized and next, our observations re the assessment by IND is examined and discussed. It turns out that there are still important issues to be resolved, in spite of the improvements of the new working instruction.

In summary, quite a few case workers still assess a conversion story on the basis of their own western (secular) assumptions, with much weight attributed to cognitive aspects and with little regard for social and emotional aspects that might be (and often are) important to applicant. This shows dramatically in the number of cases where a passive (sudden, highly emotional) conversion is not recognised, and in the frequency that an applicant is assumed to have converted on the basis of a comparative study of religions or of differences within a religion, instead of understanding conversion as a result of personal experience and/or search for meaning. Too often, we notice that case workers lack the skills needed to examine the meaning the new faith has to applicant.

In spite of all the good guidelines of the new working instruction, we do not yet see improvements in the assessments of individual cases. Partly, this may be owing to the fact that case workers will also need improved training that will not happen overnight. However, it can also be attributed to the fact that IND does not commend the use of objective information sources and expert advice so as to guarantee the use of a sound framework for the assessment. Moreover third party statements submitted by or on behalf of applicant are not always valued as they should.

As a result of not using objective information sources and expert advice, we continue to see a serious lack of understanding of the essentials of Christianity and of Islam and of the differences between them. Also we notice quite a lot of remarkable expectations re the knowledge of the Christian faith an applicant should have.

Another aspect is the assumption of quite a few, and perhaps most, case workers that minors younger than, say, 16 year are not able to make a well-informed decision about a conversion themselves, without examination of the minor’s evolving capacities that are not dependent on age but rather on personal experience, culture and levels of parental support and expectation.

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