Sister Ban denied visa from British Home Office
In 2014, along with her fellow Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, she was forced to leave her native Qaraqosh, which has long been a Christian town on the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, who had burst onto the world stage through terrifying tactics, had occupied her convent. She settled with thousands of other internally displaced persons, mostly Christians, in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. There she set up kindergartens for the children of the IDPs, who would end up camping out in public parks, converted shipping containers, and half-finished office buildings in the city.
Now that ISIS appears to have been defeated, at least militarily, many Christian IDPs are returning to their homes in northern Iraq. And Sister Ban had an opportunity to visit an ill sister in England.
The Catholic Herald in Great Britain reported that UK Visas and Immigration, a division of the Home Office, denied Sister Ban a visa because she had not provided evidence of her earnings as a kindergarten principal and that she had not provided confirmation that the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena would fund her visit. “For these reasons, the letter says the clearance officer is not satisfied that she is genuinely seeking entry for a permissible purpose,” said the Herald, which viewed a copy of the letter.
“In relation to this decision there is no right of appeal or right to administrative review,” the letter concluded.
The letter acknowledges the importance of family visits, and accepts that Sister Ban had previously travelled to the UK and complied with the terms of her visa, but points out that she was issued that visa seven years ago in 2011 and comments specifically on her absence of recent travel to the UK.
On that point, a British priest who has been advocating for Christians in the Middle East, Fr. Benedict Kiely, commented, “Do they not know what happened between 2014 and now?”
Fr. Kiely, founder of Nasarean.org, noted that another Dominican nun with a PhD in Biblical Theology from Oxford has been refused a visa twice. The Herald noted that a number of other foreign religious have also been refused entry to Britain:
A year ago the Institute of St Anselm, a Catholic institute training priests and nuns in Margate, Kent, was forced to close because of problems with visa applications for foreign students. Institute founder Fr. Len Kofler said that a Catholic priest was refused a visa to study at the Institute because he wasn’t married, and a nun was denied entry to the UK because she did not have a personal bank account because she belonged to a religious order.
In December 2016 three archbishops from Iraq and Syria were refused entry into the UK despite being invited by the country’s Syriac Orthodox Church for the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, attended by Prince Charles.
A member of Sister Ban’s own congregation, Sister Diana Momeka, encountered difficulties of her own when she was invited to give testimony in the United States Congress in 2015. Initially, U.S. consulate in Erbil denied her a visa, but after strong protests from American advocates of Middle East Christians, she was able to visit and give her testimony of the difficulties Iraqi Christians were undergoing.
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