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Afghan Youth Orchestra to perform in UK after Home Office U-turn on visa denial

The Afghan Youth Orchestra (AYO) will now be allowed to perform in the UK after the Home Office reversed its decision to deny the group visas for entry.

The AYO was due to perform at the Southbank Centre in London on Thursday as part of its Breaking the Silence tour, and the venue’s South Asian Sounds festival, before going on to perform concerts in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.

The Sama Arts Network, which organised the tour, confirmed that the Home Office had U-turned on its decision on Monday evening to deny the AYO entry visas.

The group fled Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power (Afghan Youth Orchestra/PA)
The group fled Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power (Afghan Youth Orchestra/PA)

Sama artistic director Jay Visvadeva told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight programme: “The good news has travelled to me from Portugal, that the Home Office has finally seen light of the day.”

The group – an ensemble of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) – had expressed its “profound disappointment” over the visa refusal in a statement on ANIM’s website, and called on the Government department to reconsider its decision.

The statement added: “The visa refusal not only dealt a significant blow to the young musicians’ aspirations but also deprived these young musicians an opportunity to raise awareness through music about the gender apartheid against Afghan women and denial of cultural rights of the Afghan people by the Taliban.”

Dr Ahmad Sarmast, head of ANIM, said he was “delighted” to learn of the U-turn, adding: “The new decision of the Home Office will enable members of the AYO not only to share the beauty of Afghan music with the audiences in four UK cities, but also to make music with young British musicians who join us in each city and further this latest development allows these young musicians to raise awareness about the ban of music in Afghanistan and systematic denial women rights by the Taliban.”

The group fled Afghanistan after the return of the Taliban, and its musicians have lived and studied in Portugal, where they were granted asylum, since December 2021.

The orchestra has toured in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Tajikistan in recent months.

Afghan Youth Orchestra visas
The group were due to perform at the Southbank Centre in London (Afghan Youth Orchestra/PA)

Diana Johnson, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the reversal of the Home Office decision was “excellent news”.

It is understood the Southbank Centre performance will be rearranged, with relevant organisations looking at a possible date next week.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Musicians and performers are a valued and important part of UK culture.

“Applications have to be considered on their individual merits in accordance with the immigration rules with the responsibility on applicants to demonstrate they meet these rules.”

It is understood that the Home Office is working with organisers to ensure that consent is obtained for the minors to travel.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Musicians and performers are a valued and important part of UK culture.

“Applications must be considered on their individual merits in accordance with the immigration rules with the responsibility on applicants to demonstrate they meet these rules.

“Whilst their initial applications were refused, after the provision of additional information we are pleased they will be able to travel as soon as possible.”