Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 July 2019:
With the UK set to leave Europe very soon, there have been several high level overtures from the British establishment, including recent visit to South Africa by Prime Minister Theresa May, as well the visit to Ghana and Nigeria by His Royal Highness Prince Charles, in an attempt to remind Africans about the historical, cultural and political ties that bind Britain and Africa.
The British government will need all the friends it can find in Africa, to ensure that when it leaves Europe it can establish stronger economic and trade ties with the African continent, especially with its former British colonies.
But such ties must include the ability of people from both sides to enjoy reasonable and undiscrimantory freedom of movement, if a post Brexit UK-Africa relations is to flourish.
And, if a report published by the Financial Times on 16 July 2019, authored by Helen Warrell and David Pilling, is anything to go by, Africans will have great difficulty entering the UK post Brexit. This is the Financial Times Report:
African people are more than twice as likely to be refused UK visitor visas than applicants from any other part of the world, according to research that highlights potential discrimination in British government policy.
The study, published on Tuesday by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Africa, showed that 27 per cent of African visitor visa requests made in the two years to September 2018 were refused, compared with the overall refusal rate of 12 per cent. For both Middle Eastern and Asian applicants, the figure was 11 per cent, while for North Americans it was 4 per cent.
According to the report, this has resulted in many Africans “with entirely valid reasons for visiting the UK”, such as businesspeople, academics and performers, being unable or unwilling to travel due to the entry barriers.
Commenting on the report, Chi Onwurah, a Labour MP and chair of the group, said that at a time when the UK needed to be open for business, “the broken visas system is doing severe damage to UK-Africa relations across a variety of sectors”.
“As well as our relations, it damages our economy and society. It is embarrassing, patronising and insulting to African applicants and leaves the slogan of ‘Global Britain’ empty and meaningless,” she said.
The report also raised concerns about the Home Office’s use of a risk-assessment algorithm, first revealed last month by the Financial Times, which grades applications as green, amber or red according to their level of risk.
The chief inspector of borders told the APPG inquiry he was concerned that an overreliance on the algorithmic streaming tool “could mean that decisions were not being made on the merits of the individual case but on a set of generalised and detached indicators”.
While the Home Office has said it does not screen applications on racial grounds, human rights organisations such as Liberty have argued that indicators such as nationality are effectively proxies for race.
Iain Halliday, an immigration lawyer quoted in the research, said there appeared to be a presumption that African visitors “will abscond, and that proof of previous visits and return to the country of origin is often not given appropriate weight”.
The report criticised border staff for what it called “questionable and sometimes offensive reasons” for refusals. In one instance, an internationally renowned choreographer and two dancers from the Democratic Republic of Congo were refused visas to perform in a dance festival reflecting on their personal experience of the civil war.
UK entry clearance officers reportedly questioned why dancers from the UK could not fill these roles.
Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan academic and author, told the FT that she regarded the visa system as “inhumane and degrading”. Ms Nyabola, who studied in Britain at Birmingham and Oxford universities, said her family was unable to attend her graduation ceremonies because of visa difficulties.
“When I graduated from Birmingham in 2008 I had three months to leave the country,” she said. “When I left in 2011 after graduating from Oxford I had one week to leave. The space is shrinking really dramatically,” she said. She has interpreted this as a sign that the Home Office wanted to be seen as tough on immigrants, particularly those of colour.
The idea of a visa, she said, had morphed from the notion of promoting exchange of people and ideas to one of “shutting people out”, and raising money for the Home Office through high fees, which are paid regardless of whether the visa is granted or not.
Ms Nyabola said it had become increasingly hard to hold academic conferences on Africa in the UK because of the difficulty of obtaining visas for delegates. She said she knew of cases where half the delegates had been refused entry.
Responding to the report, the Home Office said the UK “welcomes all genuine visitors from Africa and wants its visa system to support our important and increasing business and trade ties with the continent”.
“Visa applications from African nationals are at their highest level since 2013 and decision makers do not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, religion or race,” a spokesman said. “We remain committed to getting visa decisions right the first time, every time.
”The department also said that more than 47,000 more visas were issued to African nationals in 2018 than in 2016, an increase of 14 per cent.
Source: Financial Times