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Delegates refused entry to UK

29 June 2012

PA

NINE out of 11 overseas delegates who are due to attend an Anglican Alliance workshop in London next week, and a Tanzanian priest who has permission to officiate in an English diocese, have been denied entry to the UK.

They are among a number of visiting Christians who have been told by UK Border Agency (UKBA) officials in their home countries that they had failed to provide enough evidence - such as jobs, assets, or family - that they would return from Britain. The director of the Alliance, Sally Keeble, described UKBA's actions as "perverse".

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, raised the problem in the House of Lords last week. Addressing Lord Henley, a Home Office Minister, he said: "Able, well-qualified Africans are being invited to conferences in this country and endorsed, even by bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury, but are being turned down because their personal income is low. As most African clergy live on sacrificial stipends that are intermittently paid, we are wondering whether we can ever invite anyone again from Tanzania."

He said later: "These links help in establishing good relationships overseas, and help to put this country in a good light with our partners, but this sort of treatment of able and well-qualified people is putting all that in jeopardy."

The priest, the Revd Absalom Vyankende, is the principal of a Bible college in Kagera diocese, which has a link to the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich. He was refused entry twice, on the grounds that he did not have a large enough income or other assets. "Despite the fact that his sponsors, our diocese, had paid for his trip, UKBA advised him that he had not produced evidence he would not stay in the UK," Bishop Stock said.

Mr Vyankende had documentation, including an invitation from Bishop Stock, and assurances that his expenses would be paid. The diocese had also obtained permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury for him to officiate at services.

"Absalom had to do a 600-mile round trip to submit his papers in Nairobi," the Bishop said. "The agency was very inefficient with their replies, or gave no reply at all, to emails asking for clarification. . .

"No other attempt was made by the UK Border Agency to gain any information about his visit, despite the fact that his return flights had been paid for and evidence submitted of that. No satisfactory answer was given by the agency for the refusal."

Ms Keeble, a former Labour overseas development minister, was hoping that appeals to UKBA would succeed in time for the Alliance's 11-day gathering on peace-building, which starts next Monday.

The nine who have been refused entry are from countries involved in internal conflict, including the Philippines, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe.

"One is a bishop's son, another had previously been granted a visa for another visit, and several are staying with local families, which is an important factor for a successful application," Ms Keeble said. "They all have jobs to return to, and several have families. They are not the sort of people who vanish once inside this country.

In the House of Lords, Lord Henley said: "I cannot believe that someone who is being endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury or, for that matter, by any Rt Revd Prelate, could be turned away. I would want to look at that and at the particular circumstances to which the Rt Revd Prelate has referred."

A UKBA spokesperson said: "We welcome visitors to the UK. Everyone applying for a visa must demonstrate they meet the UK's immigration rules, and supply evidence to support their application. This includes proving that they intend to leave the UK at the end of their visit, and that they have the funds to support themselves while they are here. It is only right and fair that these rules apply to everyone."

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