In our editorial last week we revealed the disturbing story of how three archbishops from areas of Iraq and Syria which have been seized by Islamic State and other jihadist groups had all been denied visas to visit the UK. All three had been due to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox cathedral by the worldwide head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II on 24 November. Prince Charles was the guest of honour at the service and personal letters were read out from both HM the Queen and the Prime Minister Theresa May.
Yet this was not an isolated incident. We are aware of other Christian leaders from contexts of persecution being denied UK visitor’s visas. Earlier this year we had hoped that Majeed Rashid Kurdi, an evangelical pastor whom Barnabas Fund's Operation Safe Havens programme had rescued from Iraq, would join us for our recent UK speaking tour. Yet he too was refused a UK visa, even though his family is now permanently resident in the Czech Republic. A month ago we also reported two separate cases of Protestant pastors from Zimbabwe who had been severely persecuted by the Mugabe regime, and who were also denied visas to attend speaking engagements in the UK. Nor are these the only such cases. Just last week East Renfrewshire MP Kirsten Oswald asked the Prime Minister why UK visas have twice been refused for members of the Church of Pakistan’s Hyderabad diocese to visit the Church of Scotland presbytery of Glasgow as part of a twinning initiative.
This is in sharp contrast to Home Office guidance which encourages asylum applications from senior members of Egypt’s radical Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood continue to attack Egyptian churches, with more than 80 destroyed since the Muslim Brotherhood government was overthrown in 2013.
Decisions to reject visa applications are made not by British government ministers, but civil servants at the UK Border Agency. Yet clearly ministers have a responsibility to find out why this is happening and to deal with it urgently. Any institutional prejudice against Christians in the Home Office or UK Border Agency needs to be rooted out. This is an issue that is now being talked about around the world (see press coverage below) and potentially threatens the UK’s centuries old reputation as a safe haven for victims of religious persecution overseas.
Barnabas Fund is therefore asking its UK supporters to write to their MP asking them to press the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, for an urgent investigation of why visas are being denied to Christian leaders from areas of persecution who have been invited to come to the UK for short pastoral visits.
To find out the name and contact details of your MP – click here.
For Barnabas Fund’s short guide on how to write to MPs – click here.
Press coverage of the story that has followed our editorial