Joy as shock ban on peacemaker ministers visiting the UK lifted

The Home Office has made a last-minute reversal to overturn a “ludicrous” decision to ban two influential South Sudanese ministers from the UK, after the North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins urged the Home Office to reconsider.

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers
Very Rev Dr John Chalmers

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers said:

"This was the response we were hoping for, I am delighted at this turnaround in events - now our course will go ahead as planned and with these two participants set to benefit from both advanced conflict resolution and an opportunity to experience a respite from the trauma of their everyday lives.

"When they return to South Sudan we expect them to be refreshed in themselves and carrying a new hope for the future of their nation."

North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins haswelcomed the Home Office U-turn on the visas but said it must take a good look at how it deals with these kinds of applications in future.

He said: "Time after time visas are being denied to people with genuine reasons for entering this country. This costs them time, money and energy and while I welcome the fact that the Home Office has now granted access, it issimply not good enough that people have to jump through so many hoops to get here.

"I wish all those involved in the peace mediation programme well. This is a great initiative by the Church of Scotland on an area that has been so badly affected by conflict. The Government should be getting behind this work rather than adding more obstacles. "

Mr Gethins had urged the Home Secretary yesterday to personally intervene to ensure they could attend the “vitally important” mediation and conflict resolution workshops, organised and fully funded by the Church of Scotland.

The two men had their visa applications rejected twice which means it remains unclear if they will be able to join nine other members of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan for the training programme which starts on March 5.

It is aimed at empowering faith leaders to help bring peace to the war torn African country, which became the newest nation in the world in 2011.

One of the men, Rev Orozu Daky, said he was “deeply disappointed” because it is was the first time he had ever been denied a visa, despite visiting Germany and Switzerland more than six times, the USA twice and Scotland once.

Ridiculous

Mr Gethins, the SNP’s International Affairs and Europe spokesman, said: “Once again the UK Visas and Immigration system has put stumbling blocks in the way of people who have genuine reasons to be visiting Scotland.

"Both ministers have been denied visas by the UK Embassy in Kampala, Uganda because they believe they have, ‘not demonstrated any personal ties to your home country’.

“This is ridiculous as they both live, work and have family in their parishes.

“How else can anyone demonstrate a ‘tie’ to their country?”

South Sudan
South Sudan

Workshops are being held at venues in Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire, Perth and within church congregations between March 5-20.

One of the organisers, former Moderator of the General Assembly Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, said he was “shocked” by the turn of events.

“I visited Juba in South Sudan in 2015 during my year in office and began vitally important work on conflict resolution training with church leaders,” he added.

“That journey has led to two more training events in Nairobi, Kenya and this is a culmination of that.

“We are working with some of the most influential church leaders in the country who can make a difference to the long term future of this new nation.

“We are shocked that two of them are being prevented from attending this important event in Scotland.”

Not too late

Dr Chalmers said the Church had a “clean record” when it came to inviting people from around the world to Scotland who then return to their home countries and make a “real difference”.

“We have no doubt that our South Sudanese friends are people of integrity who will do their best for South Sudan,” he added.

“Time is getting short but travel arrangements have been made and it is not too late to grant these visas so this important work can continue.”

South Sudan children
Children in South Sudan

Mr Gethins, who has written to Ms Rudd and raised the issue with the UK Visas and Immigration department, said he hoped the Home Secretary would act quickly.

“All 11 Presbyterian Church of South Sudan representatives are coming here thanks to generous sponsorship by the Church of Scotland and congregations,” he added.

“They are coming for peace mediation training which will benefit their country, as well as strengthening links with Scotland.

“It is ludicrous that two members of this group have been denied entry on this basis."