THE first Arab female Christian pastor has been refused a visa to attend the Church of Scotland's annual gathering, with the UK Government claiming they do not believe the Kirk is paying for her visit.

Syrian-born Rev Rola Sleiman, 42, was refused entry despite the Home Office calling for and receiving assurances from the Church, which was expecting her at the week-long General Assembly in Edinburgh, starting on Saturday for a six day stay.

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Despite this, the Home Office said in its letter of refusal to Ms Sleiman it was "not satisfied you intend to leave the UK at the end of your proposed visit".

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, Principal Clerk to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “We have been looking forward to receiving Rev Rola Sleiman as representative of the National Evangelical (Protestant) Church of Syria and Lebanon at the General Assembly.

“She is the first woman to be ordained in the Middle East and became pastor of her own congregation in Lebanon in February this year.

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“Her contribution to our discussion on gender justice and on the situation in the Middle East would be of great significance.

“Therefore we are desperately disappointed at the refusal of the Home Office to issue a visa for Ms Sleiman and we are doing all we can to have this decision reviewed and reversed.

He said: "It is disturbing and mystifying that the UK Visa office has denied her a Visa on the basis that they do not believe the Church of Scotland is supporting her visit to Scotland, despite calling us and asking for verification, which we gave.

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“Over the years we have invited hundreds of overseas visitors to our General Assembly and this is the first time that our commitment to covering the costs of their stay has ever been questioned.

“We also have a 100 per cent record of our visitors returning to their own country.

“However, time is not on our side and the fact that parliament has been dissolved and MPs are on the campaign trail is making it difficult for us to make headway.

“We remain hopeful that more senior UK Government figures will overturn this injustice and allow Ms Sleiman to participate in our General Assembly.”

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Last year the Home Office overturned the refusal of travel visas to two Pakistani Christians as Kirk guests in the Glasgow Presbytery after a protest.