Home Secretary urged to overturn 'ludicrous' visa ban on South Sudan church ministers

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Home Secretary Amber Rudd has been urged to overturn a “ludicrous” decision to ban two influential South Sudanese church ministers from the UK.

North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins said she should personally intervene to ensure they can attend “vitally important” mediation and conflict resolution workshops, organised and fully funded by the Church of Scotland.

The two men have had their visa applications rejected twice which means it is 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 5 March 2018. 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, the 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.

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?”

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 said.

“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.”

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.”

Stephen 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."

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