FIVE Anglican youth leaders from the diocese of Swaziland in Southern Africa, who were due to join a pilgrimage in Scotland this month, have had their UK visa applications rejected by the Home Office.
The members of the diocesan Youth Council were due to join other representatives, aged 22-38, from the companion dioceses of Brechin, in Scotland, and the US Episcopal diocese of Iowa, from 15 to 25 July.
UK border officials have denied visas to the group because there was “unclear assurance that they were part of an official body” and not enough evidence to suggest they had “sufficient commitments in their home country for authorities to be assured that they would not remain” in the UK permanently.
The Bishop of Iowa, the Rt Revd Alan Scarfe, said this week that extensive preparations for the pilgrimage, and connections made through social media in the run up to the event, “only deepens the aggravation and disappointment in the unexpected denial of access” by the Home Office.
“Every effort was made to underscore the official nature of the delegation, and the substantial support of the companions and their bishops,” he said. “In a time when Britain is concerned about its portrayal of being inhospitable to strangers, on the heels of Brexit, this is a more than unfortunate turn of events which we hope can still be transformed.”
At present, the Bishop of Swaziland, the Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya, will be the only representative of the diocese of Swaziland to attend the event; she already has an active visa.
The three-way gathering of the dioceses has taken place in various forms for almost 40 years, since the first at Lambeth Palace in 1978. It is part of an ongoing effort to bring together church leaders of this and the next generation across the Anglican Communion. The previous youth conference was held in Swaziland in December 2014.
The Home Office has been approached for comment.