Immigration Chief transfers BIA official

UK visa row
By Anthony David

An Immigration Officer has been transferred from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) as a top-level inquiry got under way on how a Sri Lankan passport holder was helped by a British High Commission official to travel to London without a valid visa. “Our officer on duty has made a mistake by allowing the passenger to pass through,” Immigration Controller P. Abeykoon told The Sunday Times. The inquiry follows a directive from President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Sunday Times revealed last week that British High Commissioner Peter Hayes was summoned to the Foreign Office in Colombo. Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was to convey the Government’s displeasure over the move by the High Commission in facilitating the departure of 40-year-old Angayatkanni Krishnapillai on the grounds she had violated local immigration laws. Last week, High Commission Spokesman Dominic Williams said, “We don’t comment on private discussions with the Foreign Ministry.”

However, Nadeesha Epasinghe, a local staffer who functions as “Communications Manager at the British High Commission” wrote to the Sunday Times last Tuesday to clarify what she called “a news report over the weekend about a Sri Lankan national travelling to Britain without a visa.” She stated: “There is a discretion within UK legislation to allow the visa requirements for Sri Lankan nationals to be waived in certain cases.

“In this case a Sri Lankan national was removed from the UK under UK immigration procedures. The individual challenged their removal and the Court of Appeal found in their favour and ordered the UK Boarder Agency to reconsider. The UK Border Agency instructed that the individual be returned to the UK at Government expense and with the full support of UKBA staff at the British High Commission in Colombo as a courtesy.

Given the particular circumstances of the case the requirement for a visa was waived, and because there is no category of visa for someone in these circumstances. The UK Border Agency issued a letter to Sri Lankan Airlines indemnifying them against any charges under UK liability legislation.

“The individual concerned presented themselves in the normal way to the airline check-in desk and Sri Lankan Immigration Department officials upon arrival at the airport. The individual was interviewed at length and in detail by Sri Lankan officials at the airport, before being given permission by them to depart. British High Commission staff accompanying the individual co-operated fully with the Sri Lankan authorities, and did not seek to interfere in any way.”

Mr. Abeykoon disagreed with the claims made by the local staffer on behalf of the British High Commission. He said the High Commission had the responsibility to inform as he was the Controller of Immigration and Emigration.

“Under the Immigration practices followed by us, only if a valid visa is stamped, or if we are aware that the person is travelling to a country where on arrival visas are issued, we would allow the passenger to pass.” He emphasised “there is no practice of the passenger carrying a letter to the airline concerned and passing through the Immigration counters.”

Contrary to our report last week, Mr. Abeykoon said the Immigration Officer on duty had not contacted him or any other higher authority. “He should have referred the matter to me or to one of his superiors,” he said.

The Sunday Times has learnt that the information about Ms Krishnapillai’s travel to Britain on August 14 was conveyed on August 11 to only those in SriLankan Airlines.

This is what Lorna Crooks, Immigration Liaison Manager of the UKBA attached to the British High Commission in Colombo said, “Please see the attached letter from the UK Border Agency concerning a passenger booked on tomorrow’s UL flight to London. She will be accompanied to the airport by our Migration Delivery Officer, Malcolm Lewis. Grateful if you could facilitate her boarding the flight without any issues. Please call me if there are any problems.” The letter referred to has been signed by UKBA’s Inspector, R.P. Bowden.

Foreign Ministry sources in Colombo said yesterday that they were looking into why the British High Commission did not inform any relevant authority. “In this instance, it is not a mere basic courtesy but an essential procedure,” a source said.

Leaks in sections of the media quoting British High Commission sources said that officers of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) interrogated the female passenger and this had irked Sri Lanka’s premier intelligence service. Speaking on grounds of anonymity, an angry intelligence official at BIA said, “Yes, we did question her.

It is our duty to do so under such suspicious circumstances. Any human smuggler, asylum seeker, drug peddler or terrorist can produce a letter to immigration and seek visa waivers. How do we know the authenticity?

The case is made worse when those who matter, like the Controller of Immigration or the Foreign Ministry have not been informed so we could be apprised.”

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