Hardline immigration policy blamed for former shoeshine boy's visa refusal

ORDINARY people wanting to come from other countries for a holiday in Edinburgh are being hit by the UK Government’s hard-line immigration policy, a former MP has claimed after pleas for a visa for a former shoe-shine boy from Ethiopia fell on deaf ears.

By Ian Swanson
Tuesday, 27th August 2019, 2:27 pm
John Barrett with Gimacho Ermias and daughter Sarah
John Barrett with Gimacho Ermias and daughter Sarah

John Barrett, who was Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West for nine years up to 2010, first met Fasil Legesse Dagne and his brother 15 years ago when he was on a visit to Ethiopia as a member of a House of Commons international development select committee.

The boys were shining shoes outside the hotel where he was staying in the capital Addis Ababa and he asked Fasil to be his guide for the afternoon.

He has kept in touch and wanted to pay for Fasil, now 26, to come for a three-week holiday and see the Festival, but the Home Office refused a visa, saying they were not satisfied he was a “genuine visitor” who would leave the UK when he was due to go home.

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There is no right of appeal on visa refusals and efforts by Mr Barrett and others failed to produce a change of heart.

Mr Barrett said: “Fasil is very disappointed. He has never been out of the country and he was looking forward to the trip.

“This is a genuine case, but it has been caught up in the whole issue about immigration and asylum seekers and the Government’s blanket approach.”

He said he would try again next year to bring Fasil here for a holiday.

Meanwhile Mr Barrett is raising money to help another family he met in Ethiopia to buy basic goods like a fridge and a sewing machine which would transform their lives.

He said: “Ten years ago I met Gimacho Ermias, a tailor, and his daughter Sarah in the small town of Hosanna. Last year my wife Carol and I went back to see them.

“He is still working as a tailor, earning a few pounds a day, and his wife, who is a nurse and suffers from asthma, has a full time job 25 miles away to make ends meet, so she can only return to be with her family at weekends.”

Mr Barrett was struck by the family’s poverty. “I said ‘What would change your life?’ and they said a water purifier a fridge and a sewing machine because the dad is a tailor.”

But Mr Barrett said such items cost twice as much in Ethiopia as in this country. “Because so many people are earning such low wages they are not paying income tax, so where the government raises its money from is import duties.

“So a fridge which might cost us £200, will be £450 or £500 over there.”

He set up a Just Giving page after coming back from Ethiopia last year and has had a good response. Donations so far total £1590, but he is now making a special effort to reach his £2000 target.

“I’m still in regular touch with the family and they are amazed. If someone puts £25 on the crowdfunding site, for them that’s a week’s wages.

“It’s a dad working away trying to support his family and we want to give them a help."