Kent Law Clinic secures refugee status for atheist on religious grounds

The Kent Law Clinic has secured UK asylum for an Afghan citizen for reasons of religion, despite him being an atheist. The case is believed to be the first of its kind.

The client involved had fled to the UK from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan and was permitted to remain in the UK until 2013. He was brought up as a Muslim, but since arriving in the UK in 2007 at 16 years old he gradually turned to atheism.

The case was submitted to the Home Office under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the basis that if the client returned to Afghanistan he would face persecution on the grounds of religion – or in this case his lack of religious belief.

All legal support in the case was provided for free by Kent Law Clinic, which is a pro bono service provided by students and supervised by qualified practising lawyers from the University of Kent’s Law School, with help from local solicitors and barristers.

The case involved the Law Clinic lodging an extensive written submission with the Home Office, drawing on recent Supreme Court decisions, and including detailed evidence that a return to Afghanistan by the client could result in a death sentence under Sharia law as an ‘apostate’ – unless he remained discreet about his atheist beliefs.

Evidence also showed that because every aspect of daily life and culture in Afghanistan is permeated by Islam, living discreetly would be virtually impossible.

Claire Splawn, a second year law student at the University of Kent, prepared the case under the supervision of Clinic Solicitor, Sheona York.

Claire Splawn said: ‘We argued that an atheist should be entitled to protection from persecution on the grounds of their belief in the same way as a religious person is protected.’

Sheona York said: ‘We are absolutely delighted for our client. We also want to welcome the prompt and positive response of the Home Office. We believe that this is the first time that a person has been granted asylum in this country on the basis of their atheism.

‘The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.’

Kent Law Clinic is a highly successful partnership between students, academics and solicitors and barristers in practice locally. As part of Kent Law School, the Clinic aims to enhance the legal education of students through their supervised provision of a public service for local people who need legal advice and representation but cannot afford to pay for it. The Clinic has been a central part of the work of Kent Law School since the early-1970s.

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