For Immediate Release
30 August 2016
Ottawa – Five African members of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR) were denied visas and/or entry into Romania last month for the organization’s Annual General Meeting held in Bucharest. Members from Ghana, Kenya and Uganda were denied visas, while two members from Zambia were denied entry upon their arrival in Romania despite holding Romanian visas.
In the end, only one out of six African members in the organization successfully made it to Bucharest for the annual general meeting. A youth advocate from Madagascar obtained her visa through the Romanian consulate in Cape Town and was able to enter the country to attend the meeting, but only after being held and questioned at the airport for over an hour.
This denial of visas and entry followed months of extensive planning, which included costly trips to Romanian embassies in neighbouring countries, consular fees and the many other expenses associated with the visa application process. Letters of support were secured from the sponsoring organization, YCSRR, and Romanian-based partner organizations. Despite multiple attempts to secure visas, and letters to the Romanian consulates asking for clarification as to why visas were denied, no explanations have been provided.
In addition, the two youth advocates from Zambia were detained at Henri Coandă International Airport in Bucharest by border control for over 36 hours. This is in spite of both individuals holding valid visas and all necessary documents to enter Romania, including return flights and statements demonstrating financial means. The youth advocates were not allowed to enter the country and were assigned a guard as they waited in limbo at the airport, where they were threatened with deportation.
“This was by far my most traumatizing travel experience,” said one Youth Coalition member, “The discrimination I experienced just because of my skin colour left me mortified”.
Both youth advocates eventually returned to Zambia without attending the meeting. Once again, the reasons for their denied entry were unclear.
Unfortunately, the denial of entry visas to people from the Global South to Europe and North America is not uncommon. And for youth advocates, securing visas remains a central barrier to their involvement in international events. Many YCSRR members face these delays and arbitrary processes almost every time they travel, leading to uncertainty, extra costs and quite often, their inability to attend important conferences and events.
Discrimination against advocates and activists from Africa, in particular, leads to the under representation of entire regions in “international” meetings and conferences. This can most recently be seen at the 2016 “World” Social Forum held in Montreal, Canada, where organizers estimate that 70 percent of over 2,000 delegates who required visas were denied temporary visas to enter Canada.
For YCSRR, the discriminatory visa system has become a concerning and costly issue that prevents youth advocates from carrying out their important work and silences the voices of young people from specific regions. Until these systems are improved, YCSRR will be reluctant to hold further meetings in Europe and will encourage its partners to do the same. Further, the organization commits to continue to bring attention to visa processes that discriminate based on race and region.
Program & Communications Officer
Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights