Disabled activists have raised concerns about the accessibility of the UK’s visa system, after a prominent anti-nuclear campaigner – who has no arms – was denied permission to visit Scotland because he failed to provide fingerprints for his application form.
Karipbek Kuyukov had been due to visit Edinburgh last month to attend the annual assembly of Abolition 2000, an international network of organisations working for a global treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons.
But he was denied a visa by the British consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, which told him his application could not be approved because his “biometrics” (his fingerprints and a digital picture of his face) were of “poor quality”, and asked him to re-apply, this time “making sure the biometrics are of good quality”.
Kuyukov is honorary president of the international ATOM Project, a campaign set up by the Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev to create awareness of the damage caused by nuclear weapons testing.
Kuyukov is reported to have said: “Maybe they did not understand that I am disabled or check the information provided.
“But in my online visa application it was written that I am an artist and that I don’t have hands.”
He has now received an apology for the “clerical error” from the Foreign Office.
EDRIC, a new Europe-wide network of limb difference organisations, said it was “shocked and appalled” by Kuyukov’s experience.
Geoff Adams-Spink, EDRIC’s chair, said that disabled people “frequently encounter ignorance and discrimination when travelling”.
He said: “The unfortunate experience of Karipbek Kuyukov underlines the need for awareness training among Home Office and consular officials.
“EDRIC exists to draw attention to the needs of everyone living with limb difference. We are more than ready to engage in dialogue with the UK government in order to put right this profound injustice.”
He said it was “a shame” that at a time when new developments in technology were often improving the quality of life for disabled people, they were also “throwing up new barriers”.
He added: “Of course we have to go down this technology route, but we need to build in the escape routes for people who do not fit the ‘one size fits all’.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The application has not been refused. We will not comment on individual cases.”
She added: “It is nonsense to suggest that having a disability negatively impacts on whether an individual’s visa application is successful or not.
“Those who are unable to provide biometric information have their faces digitally photographed and a record is made on our database that fingerprints cannot be provided.”
But another spokeswoman later admitted that an apology had been made to Kuyukov. She blamed the problem with his visa on a “miscommunication” and a “clerical error”, but insisted: “There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the decision that was taken had anything to do with his disability.”
ICAN UK, the UK branch of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said the incident was a “travesty”.
Thomas Nash, a member of ICAN’s international steering group, who met Kuyukov at an event in Oslo in March, said: “This is shameful; faceless bureaucracy at its worst.
“I would like the Home Office to explain what happened, rather than fob it off as miscommunication.”
Kuyukov was born just 100 kilometres away from the Semipalatinsk, the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons test site, and campaigns “for people like me to be the last victims of nuclear tests”.
From 1949 until 1989, 456 nuclear weapons tests were carried out at the site.
Kuyukov has described how – before he was born – his parents would climb a nearby hill to watch the nuclear explosions.
He has travelled widely as part of his involvement in the international anti-nuclear weapons movement, and is also a renowned mouth and foot painting artist.
9 May 2013