Rola Sleiman misses Assembly after visa problem

Beirut from the air Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ms Sleiman was turned back at Beirut as she set off for Edinburgh

A Syrian pastor has been unable to travel to the Church of Scotland General Assembly in Edinburgh after a row over her travel visa.

The Home Office initially refused the Reverend Rola Sleimen's application but the decision was reversed with just days to spare.

Ms Sleimen travelled to Beirut airport but officials there would not allow her to board a flight.

She had hoped to be at the general assembly, which begins on Saturday.

The Church of Scotland said it was unclear why the decision was made in Beirut preventing her travelling.

Ms Sleiman is the first female pastor in the Arab Christian world.

She is a representative of the National Evangelical (Protestant) Church of Syria and Lebanon and she took up a new post as parish minister in Tripoli, Lebanon, in February.

Her initial application for travel papers was apparently rejected because of concern about how her costs would be met while she was in the UK.

Image copyright Church of Scotland
Image caption The Reverend Rola Sleiman is the first female pastor in the Arab Christian world.

The Church of Scotland said its world mission council confirmed to the UK Visas and Immigration department last month that Ms Sleiman's expenses would be covered during her eight-day stay.

Ms Sleiman received a letter from the Home Office on 8 May saying that it was not satisfied that her income was what she claimed and that the Church was going to support her financially.

However, after the situation received media coverage on Tuesday, the case was reviewed.

After the latest setback Principal Clerk to the General Assembly the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers said: "We accept the genuine efforts Home Office officials have made in recent days to overturn the original refusal to grant Ms Sleiman a visa, and it is unfortunate that the measures put in place were not sufficient to allow Ms Sleiman to board her flight.

"We had hoped to welcome Ms Sleiman to our gathering on Saturday, and hear first-hand the challenges facing the Christian community in the Middle East.

"It is a matter of real sorrow this will no longer be possible."

The Church of Scotland said it hoped Ms Sleiman would be able to attend a Women in Faith event being held later this year.

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