Two Syriac Orthodox archbishops have been denied visas to visit the UK for a ceremony being attended by the Prince of Wales, as Home Office officials said they may try to claim asylum.
On November 24, a ceremony was held to consecrate the first Syriac Orthodox cathedral in the UK, the Cathedral of St. Thomas in Acton, West London.
The event was attended by the Prince of Wales, who said it was “deeply encouraging” to attend the consecration when so many Christians were undergoing “appalling suffering” in Syria and Iraq. The prime minister, Theresa May, also sent a letter of support, saying Britons were “fortunate to live in a country where different religious beliefs are not only tolerated, but welcomed”.
But the Archbishop of Mosul, Mor Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, and the Archbishop of St Matthew’s, north of Mosul, Mor Timothy Mosa Alshamany, both of whom now live in Iraqi Kurdistan, were not in attendance having been denied visas by the British government.
Mor Athanasius Toma Dawod, the UK’s archbishop, who hosted the event, told The Times: “We’re very upset. Why did this happen? They have a role in the church. I invited them to share with us the consecration of the cathedral. Our people are still there in the Middle East and I wanted them to share it with me.”
According to Dawod, the archbishops were told: “First, you might go and not come back; you might apply for asylum. Second, you don’t have enough money to spend there.”
But he said the archbishops would have been staying in the vicarage, making the claim by the Home Office “ridiculous”. He said they had visas for both the U.S. and Europe’s Schengen Zone, as well as enough money.
A third archbishop, Mor Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama in Syria, also attempted to apply for a visa online, but was told by the British embassy in Lebanon that he was unlikely to succeed as a Syrian national.
“Why did the British refuse?” Dawod asked. “They give visas to people who don’t deserve them.”
In September Iraqi asylum seeker Ali Esayed, 19, was arrested along with two other men and charged with offences including the plotting of a Paris style terrorist attack on London. Breitbart London revealed that Esayed’s older sister, Alaa Abdullah Esayed, 23, was in 2015 sentenced to three and a half years in jail for encouraging terrorism and the dissemination of terrorist materials.
The siblings had come to Britain with their family as children, and were living in a council house in central London worth £1.3 million.
Last year more than 2,200 Syrians and 1,750 Iraqis were granted asylum in the UK without recourse to the appeals process, according to government statistics.
The Barnabus Fund, a charity for persecuted Christians, said: “These senior church leaders whose members are experiencing genocide were denied visas to attend the consecration of the cathedral, which provides spiritual care for some of their flock who have obtained refuge in the UK.”
The charity said UK visas had been granted to Muslim clerics from Pakistan who had praised the killer of a politician who campaigned to protect Christians from blasphemy laws.
A Home Office spokesman said: “All visa applications are considered on individual merits and applicants must provide evidence to show they meet the requirements of the immigration rules.”