Are Africans victims of a Home
Office 'secret travel ban'?
Yes, says UNESCO chief

Professor Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration has said she will no longer host any international conferences in the UK because of the Home Office’s ‘inept’ and ‘embarrassing’ system.

Ms Phipps accused the government of operating a ‘secret travel ban’ by refusing visas to experts from the Middle East and countries in Africa, even though they have full sponsorship to visit the UK and participate in government-funded projects.

One of them was Temitayo Olofinlua (pictured). Even though she had proved that she was married with children and had a job in Nigeria, Ms Olofinlua was initially refused a visa because the case worker was not ‘satisfied that you are genuinely seeking entry as a visitor or that you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit’.

Ms Olofinlua said:

‘Going through the experience has been tortuous. I lost money. I lost valuable time, thanks to the tedious process of applying and re-applying, making the overnight visit to Lagos then standing hours in line.’

Most affected people have applied for a Permitted Paid Engagement Visa, which is offered to experts, or invited guests.

A parliamentary meeting of the Royal African Society in June looked at recent visa rejections and concluded that there is a ‘culture of disbelief’ and ‘unreasonable, intrusive and demeaning’ requirements for African visitors to the UK.

The Society believes the figure could be as high as twice as many refusals for Africans – even requested delegates –  than for visitors from other parts of the world. It continued:

‘In one instance, a highly regarded professor, who had been invited to a conference in recognition of his contribution to ongoing debates, was denied a conference visa because he had not demonstrated that he had ‘previously been sent on similar training in the UK.’ The assumption that an African academic would only visit the UK to be ‘trained’ is incorrect and offensive.’

In April, a team of six Ebola researchers from Sierra Leone were unable to attend vital training in the UK, funded by the Wellcome Trust. Also in the same month, the London School of Economics (LSE) asked 25 researchers to participate in a workshop as part of their Africa summit. Only one was able to attend.

Tim Allen, director of the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa at the LSE, said:

‘All the flight costs and visa applications were paid by the UK research councils so this is very unjoined-up government.

‘[One of our researchers] who was refused is very senior, he has been made to feel like a criminal. People feel demeaned and abused, they experience it as racism.’

The LSE has now decided to hold its conferences in Belgium in the future.

Brenda Ireo, a social worker from Uganda, was invited to a workshop funded by the Department for International Development. Her visa application was rejected even though she had submitted bank statements and tenancy agreements to prove that she would be returning home afterwards. She said:

‘They are being too strict. It’s so hard to get to the UK if you are from Africa.’

Last month, seven potential speakers at the World Community Development Conference in Dundee were barred from attending. The local MP, Chris Law said this was ‘penalising innocent people’ and was not the first high-profile event in the city that had been disrupted by visa refusals.

A Home Office spokesperson responded:

‘All immigration applications are considered on their individual merits and on the basis of the evidence available, in line with the immigration rules.

‘We welcome international academics and recognise their contribution to the UK’s world-leading education sector.’

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