Syrian pastor denied travel to General Assembly despite visa clearance

The Church of Scotland is disappointed the Syrian pastor, Rev Rola Sleiman, is not going to be able attend our General Assembly after being prevented from boarding a flight in Lebanon last night. Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, who is Principal Clerk to the General Assembly said:

Rola Sleiman
Rev Rola Sleiman

“This has been a regrettable situation. Ms Sleiman was forced to make a 2 hour journey from Beirut airport to her home in Tripoli last night after being turned back by officials. We accept the genuine efforts Home Office officials have made in recent days to overturn the original refusal to grant Ms Sleiman a visa, and it is unfortunate that the measures put in place were not sufficient to allow Ms Sleiman to board her flight. We had hoped to welcome Ms Sleiman to our gathering on Saturday, and hear first-hand the challenges facing the Christian community in the Middle East. It is a matter of real sorrow this will no longer be possible.”

“We have also just learned our delegate from South Sudan has been refused his visa to attend. This is a particular disappointment to me, given the continuing efforts I am engaging in to build peace in this young and troubled nation. I would like to urge the Home Office to review its visa process to ensure the United Kingdom’s international reputation as a place of welcome is not diminished.”

The British Embassy in Amman in Jordan had announced earlier this week it was moving to grant a visa waiver which would allow Rev Rola Sleiman, a representative of the National Evangelical (Protestant) Church of Syria and Lebanon, to travel to Scotland today (Friday) to attend our annual gathering in Edinburgh.

Ms Sleiman, who is the first female pastor in the Arab Christian world, was initially denied a visa because the UK Visas and Immigration department was not satisfied that she would leave the country at the end of her eight-day visit.

The 42-year-old took up a new post as a parish minister in Tripoli, Lebanon, in February. She said she felt she was initially treated unjustly and was “extremely grateful and thankful” for all the public support she had received.

The case marked the first time the Church of Scotland, which has invited hundreds of overseas visitors to the General Assembly over the years, had been questioned over whether it would cover a delegate's costs. Church official’s expressed disappointment their assurances to immigration officials had not been taken on board.

Measures are now being considered to represent Ms Sleiman at the General Assembly in spirit, if not in person. It is planned a fresh invitation will be extended for her to travel to Scotland in the autumn to attend a ‘Women in Faith’ event the Church is holding.