Sri Lanka bishop boycotts UK as ‘mark of protest’

Published May 11, 2006

Bishop Duleep de Chickera of the diocese of Colombo said he went public with his protest of the United Kingdom’s policy of fingerprinting all Sri Lankans applying for British visas becauese he wanted to inform Anglicans in the worldwide Communion of the discriminatory practice.

Bishop Duleep de Chickera of the diocese of Colombo, Anglican Church of Ceylon, has refrained from visiting the United Kingdom as a “mark of protest” following the British High Commission in Colombo’s policy of fingerprinting all Sri Lankans applying for British visas.

“I find that many are unaware of a discriminatory British visa policy that Sri Lanka and a few selected countries continue to be subject to,” said Bishop de Chickera in a letter sent to the Anglican Journal. He wrote that in June 2003, the British Home office introduced fingerprinting as a pilot project, but eventually decided to make it a permanent policy in Sri Lanka and some African countries. According to the Web site for the British High Commission in Colombo, all applications in Sri Lanka for visas to travel to the UK “will only be issued following the result of checks against immigration records in the UK of the fingerprint scan.”

Bishop de Chickera wrote, “From the time this policy was introduced, I have repeatedly raised concerns regarding this serious violation of the dignity and privacy of persons with the British High Commission in Colombo and, through the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the relative authorities in the UK.”

The bishop said the rationale given for the policy is the need to “check/reduce the entry of illegal immigrants/asylum seekers/terrorists.” One official at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office suggested to the bishop that the scheme introduced in Colombo “did not discriminate against Sri Lankans because all applicants in Sri Lanka, irrespective of their nationality, had to be fingerprinted.” The bishop added that he was told that other countries were also planning or have already implemented the collection of biometric data from visa applicants. However, he said, “The world knows that the (United States) and France do collect such data, but that this is done universally and is not confined to some countries only.”

Bishop de Chickera said British authorities “were completely insensitive to the association of finger printing with criminality.” He said it “brought back embarrassing and painful memories of the humiliation Sri Lankans were subject to over the past decades due to international suspicion that all or most of us were either terrorists mala fide, asylum seekers or economic refugees.” Authorities have likewise “forgotten or have not been adequately briefed on the adverse impact of colonization which we suffered under British imperialism for one hundred and fifty years.”

In October 2005, Bishop de Chickera said he had renewed his request to the Home Office, through the Archbishop of Canterbury, to “give us an updated clarification on these matters to allay our fears that the scheme was not only discriminatory but was also being used for further violating the rights of persons.” But, he said, he received no response.

Bishop de Chickera said he had declined to go public on the finger printing issues in Sri Lanka “for good reasons” but that he felt compelled to raise it now “for the information and advocacy of Anglicans in the worldwide Communion.”


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