Letter from Andrew Boord to HM Consul,
Since the start of the UK visa regime in Turkey,
many of us have had to endure the complaints of those whose plans
to visit our country have been thwarted. Most of us have generally
sided with the Visa Office as we appreciate the stresses of Visa
However, during the past months, as any British
citizen who is integrated into Turkish society will confirm, the
number of cases involving respectable but exasperated applicants
for UK entry visas has grown in number and severity.
Many of us have continued to try to defend the
system and the good standing of the United Kingdom and its public
servants in Turkey, to an audience whose Anglophile tendency is
being recklessly tested. Social occasions with Turkish friends
of the highest standing in society are regularly marred. The Consulate
is widely ridiculed by Turks whose only dealings with the institution
are with the Visa Section.
Scions of Turkish diplomats, industrialists,
landowners, media figures and academics are beginning to notice
that the British Consulate Visa Section has treated them, some
relative or close friend, exceptionally badly. They have not suffered
such treatment from other countries' consulates. Generally they
regard this as pitiable but in some cases injustice has caused
Some eight years ago, the UK Visa Section was
regarded as such an example of "best practice" that
French and German Consular officers met with their UK counterparts
in order to learn how to improve their own methods and promote
the kind of dignified politeness and courtesy combined with efficiency,
for which the British officers were noted. Today, even successful
applicants frequently feel insulted and sullied.
Turkey is a crucial ally of the United Kingdom,
a strategic partner in the current struggles against terror, and
her citizens have been called upon to make every kind of economic
and blood sacrifice to serve our nations' shared values. Her citizens
are worthy of courtesy and respect, a fact that all Visa Officers
should bear in mind as they fulfil their duties as part of a diplomatic
mission in the service of the Crown.
The Visa Section has begun to lose the moral
support of those in the British community who are regularly called
upon to defend their decisions and behaviour, as we are all defined
as representatives of our country abroad, whether or not we work
for the FCO or Home Office.
References and information supplied by prominent
and respected British citizens in support of visa applicants are
routinely ignored or discounted. The Visa Section reserves this
senseless affront for British citizens of good standing. It is
a wretched practice that achieves nothing except the regular replenishment
of the great pool of hostility that the Visa Section has created,
and the rejection or clumsy handling of worthy applicants.
Below I list just three examples of recent cases
whose veracity I can personally vouch for: this is just the tip
of the iceberg. These examples are representative of what we hear
from Turkish friends all the time. There are more extreme examples
that may be the subjects of separate enquiry and that I am not
authorised to mention. They all stand witness to a poisonous concoction
of rudeness, unreason and arrogance infused throughout with an
insolent presumption that the applicants, although individuals
of high standing in Turkish society, are "guilty until proved
innocent". Yet all they have done is declared a desire to
visit our country to British Visa Officers.
A respected Turkish businessman,
married to a member of the Turkish State Opera, has major heart
surgery operation at a well known private hospital in London.
His wife, who is by his side, is obliged to return to her work
at the Opera. Her sister is deputed to attend on her brother-in-law
and applies for a visa. All her papers are in order, and the Visa
Section does not question this. But the Visa Officer states that
there is no need for the sister to go, the wife should stay by
her husband's side! She would lose her career if she did this:
it is out of the question. The Visa Officer replies that surely
her husband is more important that her job. The visa is not given
but not formally refused either: later it is obtained through
a travel agent! The victim remains reluctant to go to Britain
at all after this disgraceful episode.
A lady of substantial private means,
with all the necessary documentation, applies for a visa for a
four-day visit: she wishes to visit a London exhibition at specific
dates. She has visited the UK on many previous occasions. Her
documentation is not questioned. She is given an appointment months
ahead, long after the exhibition has finished. The lady has asked
a friend, a Member of the House of Lords, to assist in expressing
her outrage in the appropriate quarters.
A Turkish journalist marries a British
citizen, a wealthy businessman and restaurateur, in London. Upon
their return to Britain after their honeymoon she is informed
that she must return to Istanbul to re-apply for new papers as
she had visitor status. This was an error of hers, following inaccurate
advice from a London lawyer. She applies in Istanbul and is given
an appointment many, many months ahead. During that time she may
not travel to the UK, and her husband. The Visa Section treated
her with rudeness and sarcasm. I helped organize her travel to
another country, where the British Embassy showed courteousness
and understanding. Her application was dealt with rapidly. That
mission had heard of other ``eccentric'' cases emanating from
There is no shortage of examples of ``unfortunate''
treatment of respectable applicants. The Visa Section's conduct
has become a point of serious public concern. The issue will shortly
be raised in Parliament.
In its present incarnation, the Visa Section
effectively works against British diplomatic and foreign policy
interests, and counter to declared British strategic objectives
in this region. This is now widely commented upon in the British
community, in other foreign communities in Turkey, and of course
in Turkish society.
The dismal shields of the bureaucrat down the
ages, ``we're just doing our job'', ``that's the procedure'',
and all the other weapons in that shabby armoury, no longer offer
much protection. The number of cases is so large, and the insensitivity
and impudence meted out to applicants so regularly reported that
it is hard for victims to avoid the conclusion that it is a deliberate
policy, although in fact it is a blatant and harmful contradiction
of British policy.
It was not like this before; it is not like
this in British missions in other countries, nor in the missions
of other countries in Turkey. It is in my view the duty of all
concerned Brits and Anglophiles to work for a resolution.
I feel reluctantly obliged to draw these matters
to your kind attention in the hope that this will contribute in
however small a way to recreating the kind of civilized, responsible
and responsive Visa Section that used to exist.
I do so in a spirit of constructive friendship,
and, like all concerned Brits, stand ready to help in any way
in the rebuilding that lies ahead.
Mr Andrew Boord
31 January 2002