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British Syrian-born woman has visa revoked without explanation before flight to Australia

UK citizen Zahra Ramadani, 30, due to fly to Sydney on Thursday, told she was no longer eligible to enter the country after visa cancelled.

Zahra Ramadani

A British woman who was born in Syria has been refused entry into Australia, after her visa was issued and then revoked without explanation.

Zahra Ramadani, 30, from west London, was due to fly to Sydney on Thursday with a friend but was contacted by the Australian High Commission on Wednesday to say her visa had been revoked and that she was no longer eligible for entry into Australia.

The incident comes in the wake of several controversial visa refusals. The Australian government was criticised this week after it initially refused to grant visas to the family of a dying Pakistani student, who is too sick to fly home and is being cared for in a homeless shelter.

In the UK a British imam was the second British Muslim to report he had been refused entry to the US after his business visa was revoked without explanation as he attempted to board a plane to New York.

Ramadani, a project manager in business development for Marks and Spencer, told the Guardian she felt the only explanation for the rejection of her visa to Australia is her place of birth.

Her family originally fled to Syria from Iraq in 1980 before seeking refuge in the UK in 1989 when she was four years old. She said: “I’m really disappointed because I’m a British citizen and I have lived here most of my life. I’m law-abiding and I lead a pretty normal Londoner’s life. I am not remotely religious.”

“I didn’t even know I needed a visa. I thought, well, I’m British, there’s the commonwealth, you don’t need one.”

To enter Australia, tourists have two options, an eVisitor visa which can be applied for directly from the Department of Immigration & Border Protection or an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) which you can obtain via travel agents or airlines.

The two women, who were due to stay in Sydney until 1 January before joining friends in New Zealand for 17 days, had applied for the eVisitor visa from the same website. The only difference between them was that on the first page, Ramadani stated her birthplace as Syria. She was then directed to a much more complicated second page than her friend, who only had to give a few simple details before being granted a visa “almost immediately” according to Ramadani.

“I filled in my form first,” she said. “Mine was incredibly complicated. I had to give them my full employer’s details, every single member of my family, my friend’s details etc. I’ve never done an e-visa like that before. My friend called me and said that her form asked for none of those questions. I feel like it must just be due to my place of birth”

When no visa came through, she called the helpline and was told to try the ETA instead. After applying for that and receiving an email to say she was successful, she attempted to check-in to her flight before being told by the airline that there was a problem. She said: “I thought everything was OK but the airline said I wasn’t valid and then I got the email from the High Commission to say my visa had been revoked and that it had been issued in error.”

“I’m really angry because my holiday was meant to start [today]. It’s ruined it for my friend as well. We booked our tickets and accommodation three months ago and I’ve been saving up. I’ve had no time off this year and have worked really hard for this.

“You can’t marginalise people like this. To be brutally honest, all this is very off putting, and I’m beginning to think that out of principle I shouldn’t consider Australia as a holiday destination – especially that it is people of my background that are not welcome and are treated in this way.”

“I know my experience doesn’t compare – but it has made me think of their treatment of migrants and refugees, and foreign policy, and is making me think that out of principle I shouldn’t be contributing to Australia’s tourism.”

While there was some suggestion her visa may be returned, the Australian department of immigration and border protection did not respond by deadline, and as it stood on Thursday morning Ramadani remained unable to travel.

She told the Guardian on Thursday morning she had received an email asking for her employer’s details – information she said she has already provided – but nothing more.

Ramadani’s MP, Labour’s Steve Pound, said: “I’m horrified at the brute insensitivity of the Australian government who cancelled my constituent’s perfectly valid visa less than 24 hours before she was due to fly.

“I’m depressed that no-one is available to speak at the Australian high commission and I’m ashamed of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office where the phones ring without answer in the offices of the regional minister, Hugo Swire, and where the office of the foreign secretary promise action, do nothing, never call back and state that they are wholly unaware of this and the other two high profile visa refusals all over the press.

“But, above all, I weep for Zahra, who is as much a threat to Australia as a wombat and has been treated disgracefully. I can only hope that a last minute burst of activity from the previously inactive can save the day for a decent, hardworking British citizen who deserves far better.”

Source: The Guardian