UNIVERSITY CONFERENCES AT RISK AS ACADEMIC SPEAKERS REFUSED UK VISAS

UNIVERSITY CONFERENCES AT RISK AS ACADEMIC SPEAKERS REFUSED UK VISAS

Warnings Britain is closing the door on academic collaboration after a Nigerian lawyer and at least 14 overseas experts are denied entry for one event

When Christiana Ejura Attah, a barrister and academic from Nigeria, applied for a visa to speak at a renowned international African studies conference held at Cambridge University in September, she was denied entry to the UK.

British embassy officials decided Attah was likely not to return to Nigeria, because her husband, also an academic, had been granted a visa to the same three-day conference. Officials chose not to take into account that she would be leaving four children in Nigeria, or that she had a letter from her vice-chancellor at the Joseph Ayo Babalola University confirming her credentials and that she had been supported to make her UK visit with a £2,500 grant.

Attah, who had been due to present her research on the lack of legal protection for women and children in state camps for people made homeless by conflict in Nigeria, says: “I felt disappointed and humiliated”. She adds: “It is a shame that this could come from the UK. I would not know if this was a bias against women but the fact is that my husband and a junior male colleague from my department were given visas for this conference while I was not.”

Dr Insa Nolte, president of the African Studies Association of the UK, which hosted the conference, is outraged by Attah’s treatment, and in particular the apparent gender bias. “That visa officers think it appropriate to make their judgments based on a woman’s marital status in relation to her husband’s travel plans is staggering,” she says.

Attah’s case is far from isolated. At least 14 African academics couldn’t attend the same conference because of visa problems – the society suspects the actual number may be much higher. Academics from different disciplines across the UK are reporting similar frustrations, warning that Britain is quietly closing its doors and damaging vital academic collaboration.

“It is extremely worrying,” says Nolte, a reader in African studies at the University of Birmingham. “We’ve seen the refusal of people who are clearly credible and have absolutely no intention of staying in this country.”

Also An acclaimed South African poet and author has been denied access to the UK, despite charming many in the country for describing the University of Oxford as “Disneyland for nerds”.

Athol Williams – author of Pushing Boulders and the Oaky series of children’s books – was due to return to Oxford on Wednesday but was denied a UK visa.

The head of school literacy programme Read to Rise attained his masters in political theory at Oxford after two years of study and was to start work on his doctorate in political theory.

Williams, who also holds masters degrees from other top universities, including Harvard, said he planned to reapply for a visa. He had spent nearly six weeks back in South Africa.

“I am hoping that the visa denial is just a technicality … I will reapply. I don’t – yet – think there is anything sinister,” he said.

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Oludare J. Olusan
Oludare J. Olusan 248 posts

Publisher, Entrepreneur, Author and founder of The African portal / Presenter at The African Portal Radio / TV

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