A SYRIAN minister “humiliated” by a travel ban to Scotland has been granted a visa in a Home Office U-turn.
Rev Rola Sleiman is the first woman pastor in the Arab Christian world and applied for permission to attend the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in Edinburgh on Friday as a representative of the National Evangelical (Protestant) Church of Syria and Lebanon.
But in a letter, an official cast doubt over her honesty and refused to allow her entry.
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The UK Visas and Immigration department said it was not convinced the minister would return home at the end of her eight-day stay, or that she would was “genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that is permitted by the visitor routes” and would not take part in any “prohibited activities”.
And, despite assurances from the Kirk, it refused to believe that the faith group would cover her expenses.
The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, principal clerk of the General Assembly, branded the decision “disturbing and mystifying”.
Sleiman, 42, who took up her post as a parish minister in Tripoli just three months ago, called it “humiliating” and “absurd”.
The news, which broke on Monday night, prompted outcry on social media and yesterday the British Embassy in Amman in Jordan, a department of the Home Office, reversed its decision.
Responding, Chalmers said “common sense” had prevailed.
He stated: “We are grateful to the Home Office who have heard our request and granted a visa waiver enabling the Rev Rola Sleiman to travel and join us at the General Assembly in Edinburgh.
“It was clear from the support that we received overnight from the media, the public and the church that people felt a mistake had been made and an important voice might be missing from our Assembly.
“In the end common sense prevailed and it has all happened in time for us to complete Rola’s travel arrangements. We now look forward to welcoming her.”
Sleiman said she was “extremely grateful” for the public support, adding: “Many things were said that were not right such as not being able to cover the cost of my stay and not being willing to go back to my country.”
More than 730 commissioners from Scotland and beyond will take part in the annual Kirk summit at the Assembly Hall on the Mound, with more than 150 people from other organisations also attending.
Sessions will include reports from the World Mission Council, which works with partner agencies overseas and which will cover Sleiman’s costs.
The rejection letter, recieved on May 8, told Sleiman, who holds a Syrian passport: “I am not satisfied that you intend to leave the UK at the end of your proposed visit.
“Or that you will not live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits.
“Furthermore, I am not satisfied that you are genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that is permitted by the visitor routes and you will not undertake any prohibited activities.”
Chalmers said hundreds of foreign visitors had attended the General Assembly, adding: “This is the first time that our commitment to covering the costs of their stay has ever been questioned.
“We also have a 100 per cent record of our visitors returning to their own country.”
The Home Office said it does not “routinely comment on individual cases” but “each application is considered on its individual merits based on the evidence provided and in line with the UK’s Immigration Rules”.