ANGER at the refusal of UK visas to three Syrian Orthodox archbishops continued to grow this week.
Shortly after the news broke last week that the three clerics had been denied entry to Britain to attend the consecration of their Church’s first cathedral in the UK, 62 clergy, including two Anglican bishops, added their names to an open letter to the Home Secretary from the Revd Chris Phillips, Vicar of St Mary’s, Willesden, recording their “dismay” (News, 9 December).
Among the dozens of clerics from across the Church of England who signed the letter were the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, and the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson.
Those refused entry were “respected Christian leaders, whose bona fides could easily have been checked with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office at Lambeth Palace, or with the Syriac Orthodox Church in this country”, the letter says.
The Home Office’s reasons for refusing the visa applications “do not seem to take seriously the reality of the Archbishops’ urgent and serious pastoral responsibilities in their home countries,” the signatories write.
Reforms needed to be made urgently to ensure that the visa system was more equitable and compassionate, the letter concludes.
The most senior Syrian Orthodox cleric in Britain, the Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicar of the UK, Archbishop Mor Athanasius Toma Dawod, reported that the Archbishop of Mosul, Mor Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, and the Archbishop of St Matthew’s, Mor Timothy Mosa Alshamany were denied visas on the grounds that they might claim asylum, and because they did not have enough money. Both are from Iraq but now live in the Kurdistan region of the country, after having fled from the Islamic State group two years ago.
A third prelate, the Archbishop of Homs and Hama in Syria, Mor Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, was told by the British embassy in Lebanon that his application was bound to fail because he was a Syrian national.
The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, has tabled a series of questions in the House of Lords to the Home Office, challenging it on the incident.
Besides asking the department if it planned to review the case, Dr Cocksworth asked for the entire visa policy on Syria and Iraq to be reviewed. He also asked how many times visas had been refused to those applying to travel from the two countries. No reply has yet been given by the Home Office.
Speaking last week, Archbishop Dawod said that the Government’s actions betrayed its attitude to the persecuted Church.
“We don’t think they care about us. If they cared about us, why wouldn’t they give us visas? We know we are persecuted people,” he said.