Joy as Syrian minister travel ban reversed

Rola Sleiman
Rev Rola Sleiman

The Church of Scotland has thanked the UK Government for quickly reversing a decision that prevented a trailblazing Syrian minister from attending the General Assembly.

The British Embassy in Amman in Jordan announced today that it would allow Rev Rola Sleiman, a representative of the National Evangelical (Protestant) Church of Syria and Lebanon, to travel to Scotland on Friday to attend the annual gathering in Edinburgh.

Ms Sleiman, 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.

Common sense

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

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, Principal Clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said "common sense had prevailed".

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.

The decision sparked public outcry on social media with people urging Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd to intervene.

Scottish Labour peer Lord George Foulkes of Cumnock urged Baroness Williams, Home Office Minister of State, to reverse the decision.

Important voice

Dr Chalmers said: “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.”

Hope and victory

Ms Sleiman said she felt she was initially treated unjustly.

“Many things were said that were not right such as not able to cover the cost of my stay and not willing to go back to my country,” she added.

“I am concerned about leaving my church for just one Sunday.

“But now I feel that I am supported by fellow believers and I am not alone.

“I am extremely grateful for what people have done.

“I want to thank everyone who prayed, wrote a letter, shared the news and helped in a way or another to change the decision. 

“I am grateful to fellow believers whom we share the same belief.

“We believe in the risen Lord who grants us hope and victory.”