BY No Author | November 15 2019 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Church assists Vietnam Catholic in right to appeal rejected asylum case

Glasgow priest's letter and tattoo of clergyman 'significant' in tribunal verdict — by Ryan McDougall, James Farrell Colette Cooper

A Vietnamese asylum-seeker and practising Catholic has successfully challenged a court decision to refuse permission to appeal against his rejected asylum application, thanks to Church intervention.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, fled Vietnam due to the government’s brutal regime against Christians and feared persecution if he is deported.

Judges initially did not believe the man was in danger, or a Catholic. However, a Glasgow priest sent a letter to the court confirming he attends Mass at St Andrew’s Cathedral every week.

The man also has a tattoo of Fr Francis Xavier Truong Buu Diep on his chest — a priest who was martyred by the Viet Minh in 1946 as they cracked down on ‘western religions.’

Fr Diep is venerated by Catholics, Protestants, and people of no faith in Vietnam.



The Vietnamese man told the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) he had been praying to Fr Diep and that he had performed miracles for him.

The FTT refuted that this proved he was a Catholic, as he had ‘chosen to place his faith in someone other than Jesus, the Virgin Mary or any of the recognised saints in whom followers of Catholicism place their faith.’

The Office of the Advocate General then highlighted how Catholics often pray for the intercession of individuals who are not yet canonised.

Catholic lawyer Jamie Kerr said this is evident of a ‘lack of understanding’ of the Catholic Faith in the lower courts in Scotland.

“The challenge is that decisions have been taken by civil servants who might have no knowledge of the Church and additionally officials don’t always take the time to do the necessary research,” he said.


Priest’s letter

Another crucial piece of evidence in the case was a letter from Canon Joseph Walsh, a priest of St Andrew’s Cathedral, where the Vietnamese man attends Mass every week. The letter, sent to the court on January 22 2018. The letter reads: “This is to say that […] [address] attends our Church on Sundays, and this would cover the past nine or 10 months. Yours faithfully, (Rev) Joseph Walsh.”

The court initially questioned the reliability of the letter, as Canon Walsh and the man did not know each other’s names.

However, it was later concluded that they knew each other from their appearance and had learned each other’s names after he asked for him to write the letter.



Mr Kerr said: “What we can take away from it is how quickly judgements are made in lower courts and how important small things can be.

“That letter was just one piece of evidence among various others, whereas actually it was key when they got to the higher courts.

“The priest probably didn’t realise how significant that piece of evidence was at the time. What’s interesting is that one letter from a priest has turned this entire case around and I suppose there will be other cases where the evidence from priests will be absolutely essential for people who are persecuted.”

Canon Walsh told the SCO there are many Vietnamese people who attend St Andrew’s Cathedral and many of them speak little or no English, stating they are ‘mostly all young families, women and young men.’

He added his letter was a ‘turning point’ for the man.

“Maybe this has been good for him,” he said.


Later date

The court then granted the man the right to appeal, and his case will return to court at a later date where judges will determine whether he will be granted asylum in the UK.

A spokesperson for Glasgow Archdiocese said: “It is good news indeed that the appeal has been won. People trafficking is a scourge in our society which often passes unnoticed. The Holy Father has spoken about the need to combat it and help those caught in its clutches.”

In central and the northern highlands of Vietnam, Catholics face social exclusion, harassment and violent attacks from their community and non-Christian relatives.

It is the 20th worst country in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors, an organisation that supports persecuted Christians around the world.



A spokesperson for Open Doors UK said: “Christians in Vietnam are doubly vulnerable. The communist government is sensitive to criticism and has a history of arresting bloggers writing in support of political prisoners. Many of those arrested are Catholics and the government has been handing down harsh sentences of up to 20 years, citing attempts to overthrow the government.”

A spokesperson for Justice and Peace Scotland said: “Being an asylum seeker is not an easy option as some media would have us believe, and no one takes this route unless for very serious reasons.”

A spokesperson for the Church said: “In reaching a determination on the religious belief and character of someone claiming to be a Catholic, it would be reasonable to assume that the testimony of a Catholic priest would have been not only essential, but conclusive.”

The Home Office was approached for comment.

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