Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Andrew Boord to HM Consul, British Consulate-General

  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 Officers' work.

  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 harm.

  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 Istanbul.

  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

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