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Ordinands are denied visas for UK visit

23 May 2014

CHELMSFORD DIOCESE

Centenary: Bishop Cottrell and the Archbishop of Canterbury in Chelmsford Cathedral, on Friday 

Centenary: Bishop Cottrell and the Archbishop of Canterbury in Chelmsford Cathedral, on Friday 

A GROUP of Kenyan ordinands and clergy have been denied visas to visit the UK as part of the diocese of Chelmsford's centenary celebrations, on the grounds that they might not return to Kenya at the end of their trip.

The diocese has had a link with the Anglican Church of Kenya for decades, and has frequently arranged exchange visits for Kenyans to come to Britain. But of a group of 20 people, including bishops, clergy, and students invited to join in with the diocese's centenary mission, eight have had their visa applications denied, and four have yet to hear whether their applications have been successful.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said in an interview with BBC Essex on Sunday that the decision made no sense. "I'm feeling pretty angry, and a bit ashamed," he said.

"The people whose visas have been accepted are the bishops, and the Principal of the college, but the theological-college students - who, by definition as students in a poor country, don't have means or money, because they can't demonstrate any sort of income - their visa has been refused because it is thought they wouldn't return."

In the same interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he also thought it was a "bad decision", and would write to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to demand that the decision be overturned.

"It's deeply damaging to the reputation of this country, as these are people who will be leaders in their country," he said. "There's a very long history of this kind of exchange, and the number of people who have overstayed is negligible."

One of those denied a visa, Pauline Mbuko, a second-year ordinand from the diocese of Kirinyaga, was told in a letter from the Home Office that it was "not satisfied that you genuinely intend only a short visit to the UK, and that you will leave the UK at the end of the visit".

The letter suggests that Ms Mbuko does not have her own finances, or family ties to Kenya, which would provide a reason to return to Kenya after her visit.

The Dean of Mission and Ministry in the diocese of Chelmsford, Canon Roger Matthews, wrote to the UK visa office in Nairobi last week, asking for the visa refusals to be reconsidered.

In his email, he said: "The refusal to issue visas is being seen as unwillingness to offer hospitality, which is highly regrettable for us as a diocese and part of the national Church of England. It also gives a false impression of the UK as the post-colonial power."

He noted that one priest, the Revd Richard Muriuki, was denied a visa despite being in full-time employment; whereas another, the Revd Benson Thungururu, from the same diocese, was accepted.

The UK Border Agency official who replied, Veronica Karanja, said that the only grounds of appeal were race or human rights, and refused to explain the visa rejections further, only referring back to the individual refusal letters.

A spokesman for the Home Office said that it did not routinely comment on individual cases. "All applications are considered on their individual merits and according to the evidence provided," he said. "Applicants must provide evidence to show they meet the requirements of the UK immigration rules, including personal and financial circumstances."

Dr Matthews said on Wednesday that the five ordinands who had been rejected would travel to Nairobi today to reapply for visas, at a cost of £80. Those in the group who do have visas still plan to travel to the UK next month.

In a similar case earlier this year, a priest from Sudan, the Revd Timothy Krindi, was denied a visa to visit the diocese of Salisbury to raise awareness of the conflict in his country, despite the diocese's fully sponsoring his trip (News, 4 April).

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