Three archbishops from Iraq and Syria were refused entry into the UK despite being invited by the country’s Syriac Orthodox Church.
Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf of Mosul, Archbishop of St Matthew’s Timothius Mousa Shamani and Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama, were all refused UK visas which would have enabled them to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, last month.
Prince Charles, who has long championed the cause of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, was a guest of honour at the event at St Thomas Cathedral and a personal letter was read from the Queen.
The bishops were told that they were refused entry because they did not have sufficient funds to support themselves and because they might not leave the UK.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, said he was incredulous when he heard the news. He said: “When the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch told me that these two bishops had been refused visas to come to the UK for the consecration of the new Syrian Orthodox cathedral I greeted it with incredulity and disbelief. Its a decision that brings shame on our country.
“These amazingly courageous bishops come from the Mosul region of Iraq – where Christians have been beheaded, crucified, raped and either forcibly converted or forced to flee as their possessions have been seized by radical Islamists. It adds insult to injury that the UK would refuse admission to men who pose no threat and whose community has suffered so much – especially when we still fail to bring to justice Jihadists who have committed genocide.”
In an editorial, the Daily Express condemned the decision, saying: “While we appreciate the necessity of efficient border controls, surely it can’t be beyond the wit of a Home Office pencil-pusher to realise that these men of the cloth were a special case?
“Last week we learned that 650,000 immigrants made their way to Britain, the highest level yet. And yet somehow, while letting all these in, officials contrived to ban these three wise men who have risked their lives for the Christian faith.
“Mary and Joseph were told there was no room at the inn. At this time of the year in particular we would do well to be more mindful of the Christmas message.”
The UK’s Syriac Orthodox Christians Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod told the Daily Express: “These are men who have pressing pastoral responsibilities as Christian areas held by IS are liberated. That is why we cannot understand why Britain is treating Christians in this way?”
Meanwhile, the SNP MP, Kirsten Oswald, raised a similar issue at Prime Minister’s Questions last week.
The MP told the House: “Guests from the Hyderabad diocese have twice been refused visas to visit the Church of Scotland presbytery of Glasgow as part of a twinning initiative, the suggestion being that the visit was not genuine, despite the paperwork being correct and the Church bearing the costs.
“When I raised this with the Leader of the House, he spoke of the need for people to return home after visits, and then the Immigration Minister told me in a patronising letter how to apply for a visa. Will the Prime Minister tell the Church why its visitors are not welcome and what messages she thinks it sends to our faith communities?”
The Prime Minister responded by saying that the Home Secretary should look into the case.