Egyptian curators denied visas to attend Icom conference in Wales

Conference host says visa rejection has caused "embarrassment and dismay"
Robert Picheta
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Three Egyptian curators who were invited to present research at an international museum conference in Swansea have been denied entry to the UK.

The researchers had received grants from the International Council of Museums (Icom) to attend its annual conference for Egyptology curators and scholars. The grants were to cover their flights, accommodation and living expenses while in the UK.

But the Home Office rejected their visa applications, citing low income as a reason, despite the fact that copies of their grant letters were included in the applications.

Abdelrahman Othman, an award-winning curator at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and an employee at the Egyptian government’s Ministry of Antiquities, was one of the three curators whose visas were turned down.

Othman, 30, said he was “surprised” to receive a rejection, adding: “I didn’t see a reason to refuse it. I have a family in Egypt, I’m a PhD candidate and a government employee, and I have a good travel history.”

Othman has attended conferences in the USA, China, Germany and Japan without problems, and has never had a visa application turned down.

He said of the Home Office’s objection to his earnings: “This is my salary, what can I do? I earn 1,700 Egyptian pounds every month – this is a regular salary in Egypt.”

Othman says the Home Office had overlooked his savings. His rejection letter also claimed that the Home Office was “unable to verify as genuine” the letter from an Icom executive confirming his grant.

A number of non-EU academics and culture professionals attempting to attend events in the UK have had visas rejected in recent years. A dozen authors attending this year's Edinburgh Book Festival and at least three acts scheduled to play at the Womad world music festival earlier this month were denied visas.
Applications from north Africa have a 28% chance of being rejected, compared to a 13% worldwide average rate, according to Home Office data.

Othman was presented with a Best Practice Award by Icom this year. He is the founder of the My Museum in Your Classroom initiative, which has received backing from Microsoft.

Carolyn Graves-Brown, the curator of the Egypt Centre in Swansea where the event is to be held, said: “We value inclusiveness, and can hardly have a conference on Egyptology museums without Egyptian colleagues being there.

“Imagine my embarrassment and dismay when these young Egyptians were refused visas. Here we are telling everyone how welcoming we are, how we support young professionals, and visas are refused.”

The conference, entitled Beating Barriers, begins on 4 September. The three researchers have re-submitted their applications with Graves-Brown included as a sponsor.

Graves-Brown added: “Obviously this does not bode well for the future. Will international conferences, especially ones inviting people from outside Europe, really want to hold conferences in the UK? Universities in the UK will suffer, as well as museums of non-European artefacts.”

Alistair Brown, the Museums Association’s policy officer, said: “There have been a number of recent instances of the Home Office preventing participants at academic or cultural events from entering the UK.

“This is a worrying development and we urge the Home Office to give due consideration to all applications that are linked to these kinds of events. We must work to maintain the UK’s standing as a place of free academic and cultural exchange in the face of strict enforcement of immigration rules.”

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “All UK visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with UK immigration rules.”

Museums Journal understands that the UK Visas and Immigration department will be contacting Othman shortly to determine if there is further evidence to support his application.

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