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Border Agency refuses Africans’ visas

16 August 2013

GRAHAM LACDAO/ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL

Those allowed in: delegates from the Global Fellowship of Christian Youth event at St Paul's Cathedral

Those allowed in: delegates from the Global Fellowship of Christian Youth event at St Paul's Cathedral

THE president of the Boys' Brigade plans to ask the Government why almost half the international delegates invited to a 50th-anniversary conference in London were refused visas to enter the UK.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, who is also Superintendent Minister at Wesley's Chapel, in central London, said: "It's just crazy; many of these people have been here before without any problem." He intends to use his position as a Labour peer to raise the case in the House of Lords. He also hopes to enlist support among MPs.

The week-long conference, which ends tomorrow, was organised by the Global Fellowship of Christian Youth, which evolved from the Boys' Brigade. It invited 120 youth leaders from around the world, but all 49 African delegates had their visa applications rejected by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). They include the Boys' Brigade national secretaries of Cameroon (who is a Baptist minister) and of Kenya, and the Rwandan Girls' Brigade president.

Despite guarantees that their fares were paid, and expenses and accommodation covered, UKBA officials said that there was not enough supporting evidence. The agency further claimed that it was not satisfied that they intended to leave the UK at the end of their visit.

"It's not just the procedural stuff, it's the tone of the letters, stuff like: 'We are not convinced that your intentions are as stated,' and 'There are two days before and two days after the conference, and we are not satisfied that you have given us an adequate picture of what you intend to do in that time,'" Lord Griffiths said on Thursday of last week.

"The thing that really gets me is that all the political parties talk the language of driving the total number of immigrants down, to prove their macho qualities, but they are lumping all the categories together as if they are all would-be or intentional economic migrants.

"I shall either put a question down, or ask for a debate in the Lords, and see if we can get our friends in the Commons to do the same, so that at least it is brought to the attention of the wider public."

The incidents come a year after the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, received assurances from the UKBA that if visit organisers contacted the agency in advance, it would help with advice ( News, 20 July 2012).

This week, Bishop Stock said: "It is very disappointing that, despite representations made last year, this sort of damaging refusal of visas is still happening." He blamed a reorganisation of the unit responsible, which had resulted in a slow response to queries. "There is nothing obvious about where to go for advice, so it is hard for organisers to know whom to turn to.

"As long as visas are issued as part of a paper exercise at various hubs, far from the point of the submission of application, then clergy, and those associated with Christian groups who are volunteers, or paid small wages, will be disadvantaged. It is particularly hard for them to establish that they have sufficient economic status, which seems to be regarded by UKBA as the major incentive to encourage them to return to their country.

"I cannot believe that there is not some way to provide a more flexible approach," Bishop Stock said.

The Home Office, which oversees the UKBA, refused to discuss the latest cases, but a spokesman said: "Groups wishing to visit the UK need to be able to provide key information, to demonstrate that they are here for valid reasons, such as evidence to show they can financially support themselves, they are entitled to travel, and any minors are travelling with parental consent.

"If they fail to show this, then they will not be granted a visit."

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