Finland: Supreme Administrative Court annuls decision which denied an Iraqi asylum seeker protection on the grounds of Christianity conversion

On the 31 December 2021, the Supreme Administrative Court gave its decision in the case of A, an Iraqi citizen whose asylum claim was rejected by the Finnish Immigration Service. Subsequent to the applicant's first rejection he applied on the grounds that he had converted to Christianity. These claims were rejected by both the Immigration Service and the Administrative Court who doubted the authenticity of the claims and were not convinced that this would result in the applicant's persecution in Iraq.
 
The Supreme Administrative Court emphasised that religious conversion can manifest in different ways in individuals and the assessment of credibility must therefore be assessed individually in each case. It elaborated that it must be determined whether the applicant has converted to Christianity as a matter of conscience and whether his practices would mean that he would be at risk of persecution in his country of origin. The Court furthermore outlined that even though the applicant's initial attraction to Christianity could be related to his asylum claim, due to his quick conversion and baptism after the negative decision, it must be considered possible that it has become a personal conviction. The Court elaborated that the renunciation of Islam, the conversion to Christianity and adoption of Christian beliefs can be an evolving process, and therefore the current state of the applicant's convictions must be assessed rather than the earlier ones.
 
The Supreme Administrative Court deduced that the applicant's account of his beliefs was personal and consistent and his active participation in the Christian community and parish activities over four years showed his commitment and were relevant in the credibility assessment. The Court also put significant importance on witness statements and their correspondence to the words used in the applicant's statement. The Court found that the two witness accounts were consistent with the applicant's account and supported his Christian convictions. Furthermore, the Court highlighted that individuals must not be required to live contrary to or to conceal their beliefs and noted that on the basis of country information on Iraq, the applicant would not have access to protection there.
 
In light of the reasons outlined, the Supreme Administrative Court held that it had been established with sufficient certainty that the applicant had developed a Christian conviction requiring him to practice and profess his beliefs openly and would therefore result in a fear of persecution within the meaning of section 87(1) of the Aliens Act if he was to be returned to Iraq. The Court thereby concluded that the conditions for granting asylum had been met and annulled the decisions of the Administrative Court and Finnish Immigration Service, referring the case back to the latter for an asylum decision.

Based on an unofficial translation within the ELENA team, weekly legal update 7 Januarz 2022

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