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Boys' Brigade's African visitors denied visas

Youth charity's global celebrations marred as Home Office refuses to allow delegates entry
  • @emilydugan

A youth group championed by the Queen is battling the UK Border Agency after almost every African delegate for a special conference of Boys' Brigade young leaders was refused entry to the country.

Of 120 young people invited from around the world to attend a youth leadership meeting to mark 50 years of international co-operation (though the Brigade's own history goes back to 1883), 49 have had their visa applications turned down. All are from Africa. Most of the visitors were fully funded by the charity and many had significant leadership roles, including a Girls' Brigade president from Rwanda and the national secretary of Boys' Brigade Kenya.

Organisers of the event, the Global Fellowship – a coalition of Christian youth groups which evolved from the Boys' Brigade – said the refusal to issue visas could result in it being cancelled.

Lord Griffiths, the Boys' Brigade president, said: "This is the oldest youth movement in the UK and the Queen is the patron, so we don't know what else can be done to persuade people who act on the assumption that anyone coming here is an economic migrant.

"It will be too late to make this conference the success we want it to be now. Forming a fellowship around the world – that's the ideal that's being threatened. If we can't pull together 100 people for a week on our anniversary, perhaps we have to say let's abandon the idea altogether."

All the delegates have sponsors, who vouch for them and provide accommodation and food, but the UK Border Agency has written to say the delegates do not have sufficient evidence of income to get a temporary visa. Delegates from Cameroon, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Gambia all had their visa applications rejected.

Matthew Smith, the brigade's chairman-designate, said: "The young people we invited were chosen by their leadership team on the basis of their ability to contribute to the development of the movement in their own community on their return. We limited each country to three young people so they had to be selective. The whole point is to equip local leaders in their own communities."

He added: "I had hoped our thanksgiving service on Sunday 11 August would focus on the move from 1963 to 2013 as a story of increasing interaction. In fact, the story looks more like one of virtual interaction as physical meeting becomes harder than when it was required by boat!"

Paul Kabanda, a prominent youth leader in Uganda, is one of the young people denied entry. He told the charity: "I am disappointed by the way [UKBA] has assumed we participants don't have an intention to leave the UK following our visit.

"Such assumptions are inhuman and undermine our integrity as people who have a country of origin."

Mr Smith said: "We had high hopes of Paul becoming a new trustee. Now he will not be eligible for election in absentia. This will skew the balance in our council meeting and the make-up of our elected trustees."

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "I suspect the Queen would say it's a Home Office issue."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Each case is judged on its own merits. We don't comment on individual cases."