Diplomatic row with Britain over visa-free woman

By Anthony David

Sri Lanka on Friday sought an explanation from Britain on how a local passport holder was helped by a High Commission official in Colombo to travel to London without a valid visa.

British High Commissioner Peter Hayes was summoned to the Foreign Office in Colombo on Friday. Foreign Minister Rohita Bogollagama was to convey the Government’s displeasure over the move on the grounds that it had violated local immigration laws.

The Sunday Times learns that Dr. Hayes stated that he was unaware of the incident. He had said he would ascertain the facts and report back next week. However, the High Commission declined any comment. “I ‘m sure you’ll appreciate we don’t comment on the details of our private discussions with the Foreign Ministry,” spokesperson Dominic Williams said.

The move followed a directive from President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Minister Bogollagama. President Rajapaksa told Wednesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting that a British High Commission official had escorted the 40-year-old female passenger, Angayatkanni Krishnapillai, and helped clear all formalities.
The Sunday Times has learnt that the official, Lorna Crooks, Immigration Liaison Manager of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), enjoying diplomatic status had helped

the passenger. She had written to Sri Lankan Airlines that Ms. Krishnapillai would be accompanied by the High Commission’s Migration Delivery Officer, Malcolm Lewis to the airport. This is to facilitate her boarding the flight without any issues.

When Immigration officials found that she had no valid visa, the official had assured that she had been given a visa waiver and would be admitted to Britain upon arrival in London. Thereafter, the passenger had boarded a Sri Lankan Airlines flight headed for London. The UKBA comes under the British Home Ministry.

A source at the Department of Immigration, who did not wish to be identified, said the woman passenger held a UK visa was in her passport but “it had expired a long time ago.” He added, “We contacted the Controller (of Immigration P.B. Abeykoon). He ruled that the passenger be allowed to travel since there was a guarantee from the host country. This is the practice under such circumstances. So we stamped her passport and she boarded a Sri Lankan Airlines flight to London.”

However, some officials argue that if the High Commission did want to facilitate the visit of a Sri Lankan national to Britain, the best thing would have been to give them a visa. “In not stamping one, suspicions arise about the motive and why a person had to be rushed hurriedly,” said another Immigration official who did not want to be named.

Heightening suspicions further was a communication sent to the Station Manager of Sri Lankan Airlines by the UK Border Agency in London dated August 11. It had said that the passenger was travelling to London two days later, on August 14 by Sri Lankan Airlines flight UL 501 at 1.15 p.m. “They had more than two days to have a visa ready,” the official pointed out. In addition, Sri Lankan Airlines had also been told that they will not be liable for any charge under the UK Immigration and Asylum Act of 1999 for any detention or miscellaneous costs. Such costs are levied from any airline which carries a passenger to Britain without a valid visa.

In sections of Colombos diplomatic community, questions were being asked whether this was part of an ongoing spat between the Government and the British High Commission. Earlier, Attorney General Mohan Peiris, who sought a visa to visit Britain, was summoned for an interview to the visa office.

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