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UK >

Second Home Office snub for Kenyans

by Tim Wyatt

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 @ 12:12

Click to enlarge

Vacant: Canon Njoroje and Bishop Cottrell in a meeting, next to the empty chairs where the ordinands denied visas should have been sitting

Vacant: Canon Njoroje and Bishop Cottrell in a meeting, next to the empty chairs where the ordinands denied visas should have been sitting

THE Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, has launched a campaign to change the UK's visa rules after Kenyan ordinands who were invited to visit his diocese were refused visas for a second time.

Describing the decision as "an offence against common sense and natural justice", Bishop Cottrell has asked churches and parishioners in his diocese to write to their MP about the issue.

The group - about 20 Kenyans, clergy, and lay people - had been invited to spend several weeks visiting the diocese as it celebrated its centenary. Chelmsford has had a link with the Anglican Church of Kenya for many years.

A number of those invited were given visas, including the Principal of St Andrew's Theological College in Kabare, Canon Moses Njoroge. All the applications from his ordinands were refused, however, on the grounds that they did not provide evidence of sufficient income (News, 23 May).

After intervention by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, the ordinands applied again, with additional letters of support from the Archbishop of Kenya, and after double-checking the paperwork.

But again the applications were refused. Bishop Cottrell said: "I'm deeply embarrassed and dismayed that our country can show such meanness of spirit. What must these students be thinking, future leaders in [Kenya], when they haven't been believed and our letters have been ignored?"

He has now launched a campaign, asking the Home Office to review its procedures to ensure that students invited by diocese in the future can enter the UK, despite their not having an income.

Canon Njoroge made the trip without his ordinands, and told Bishop Cottrell that the decision by the visa officers in Kenya was "unfair".

"There was no reason for refusing them a visa," he said in a video released by the diocese. "[Of course] students don't have an income. At one stage I thought 'Was it a human being who decided this, or was it a computer?' It's my prayer that this will not be repeated again; and it is time to correct it so that we are not embarrassed in the way we have been."

In a similar case, a Sudanese priest invited to come to the diocese of Salisbury (which has links with the Church in Sudan) to raise awareness of the conflict in his nation was denied a visa in April (News, 4 April).

After Sir Tony wrote to Home Office ministers querying the case, he said that it had been "more cock-up than conspiracy", and that a failure to include the correct paperwork, rather than the priest's lack of money, was behind the visa refusal ( News, 13 June).

Speaking on Tuesday, he said that he had more meetings planned with Home Office officials to discuss the Kenyan ordinands' case.

"One of the issues is that question: many guests who are invited by dioceses or church groups are likely not to be particularly well off." Sir Tony also said that he had met Canon Njoroge, and "understood" his frustrations.

"I need to sit down with officials and work out how much of this is cock-up, and how much is policy, and how we ensure that everyone has the maximum clarity, [in order]to avoid these situations in the future."

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