Prominent Syrian artist and lecturer denied entry to UK, unable to attend own exhibition

Visa 30 January 2015

Prominent Syrian artist and lecturer denied entry to UK, unable to attend own exhibition

The Home Office denied a leading Syrian artist from travelling to the UK, preventing him from attending the opening of his major exhibition in London.

Thaier Helal’s heavily anticipated exhibition at Ayyam Gallery on New Bond Street opened on 22 January without the attendance of the acclaimed artist, whose works have been lauded internationally for their depiction of the Syrian Army.

Although artist and university lecturer Mr Helal provided detailed documentation and had been granted numerous European visas before, he was denied entry to the UK because the Home Office "was not satisfied he [was] genuinely seeking entry to the United Kingdom as a business visitor" and would leave after his visa expired.

According to The Independent, Mr Helal said: "I just don’t understand why I have been refused entry to the UK; I am just an artist who wants to be at the opening of my first solo exhibition in Britain. It means so much to me - it is really a career achievement.

"I truly believe that the only reason preventing me from being allowed into the UK is my Syrian passport... it was my belief that Britain was an open society which embraced creative freedom and the promotion of cultural exchange. All I want to do is show my art to an international audience and have my voice heard in some small way on behalf of the Syrian people."

Although Mr Helal is appealing the decision, he has already missed the opening of his high-profile exhibition.

Ayyam Gallery’s founder, Khaled Samawi, noted that visa refusals for Middle Eastern artists are a worrying and growing trend: "We are facing enormous problems sending our Syrian artists for exhibitions and arts-related events abroad at the moment. It is such a great shame as this a highly tumultuous time for our country and I believe that it is so important for their message to be heard by international audiences," he said.

In response to questions regarding Mr Helal, a Home Office spokesperson said the organisation does not comment on individual cases, emphasising that all visa applications are "considered on their individual merits and in line with the immigration rules."

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