Breaking News: Afghan Youth Orchestra Welcomed to UK After Home Office U-Turn and Border War Debates

The Home Office has overturned its decision to reject touring visa applications from the Afghan Youth Orchestra after widespread criticism.

The concert, which will see a group of exiled musicians between 14 and 22 perform, is set to take place in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool this month.

The 47 Afghanistan nationals have now had their visas granted, following a last-minute refusal from the Home Office.

In regard to their upcoming performance in London on Thursday this week, Southbank Centre released a statement announcing the governments U-turn.

“We are extremely disappointed that the Afghan Youth Orchestra has had its visa denied,” the statement read, going on to note: “The orchestra is a beacon of hope and free creative expression: its brave young people have been forced to leave their homeland because of a repressive regime and they have found a home in Portugal, where they have a refugee status.”

Southbank Centre continued to call on the government to “reconsider its decision.”

After the cancellation was met with much criticism, the Home Office backtracked on its decision and said that it would allow the orchestra to perform its Breaking The Silence UK tour in theatres across the UK.

The disruption has forced the Afghan Youth Orchestra to delay their arrival to the UK, but the Southbank Centre reassured its audience that it is working closely with SAMA Arts to see if Thursday’s concert can continue as planned.

Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Diana Johnson MP, responded to the overturn in a post on X. Johnson wrote: “Excellent news and glad the @ukhomeoffice have done the right thing. Thank you to everyone who made this happen.”

The orchestra is part of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), which has a campus in Kabul.

Founded in 2010, the ANIM has faced severe challenges since the Taliban’s takeover. The institute has seen its offices ransacked, instruments abandoned and the promotion of music education blocked.

When the Taliban regained power in 2021, the institute’s campus in Kabul was seized and turned into a command centre for the terror group.

The ban on music was first announced in summer last year, as the Taliban tightened its restrictions under its regime and shared a picture of militants burning musical instruments and equipment.

Under the orthodox and unofficial rule, the ANIM also had its bank accounts frozen.

In 2014, the musical institute was victim to a terror attack after a targeted strike ripped through its venue during a symphony orchestra performance at the French cultural centre in Kabul.

As part of its Break The Silence campaign, the orchestra has prepared a range of classical Afghan, south Asian and western pieces to perform at the Southbank Centre in London, the Tung auditorium in Liverpool, Stoller Hall in Manchester and at Birmingham Town Hall.

Before the turnaround, Dr Ahmad Sarmast, the Director of the Afghan Youth Orchestra, described the Home Office’s cancellation as “heart-breaking” and told reporters that the group have already performed without restrictions in Switzerland, France, Italy and Germany.

“The main purpose of the orchestra is not only to share Afghan music in exile while it is banned and suppressed [under the Taliban] but to achieve cultural diplomacy – people to people – across the world,” Starmast said.

“This denies our people the opportunity to let people in the UK know about what is happening in Afghanistan and share the beauty of Afghan music.”

After being criticised for blocking the right to freedom of expression and questioned on their efforts for international diplomacy, the Home Office retracted its decision.

A spokesperson for the Home Office 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.”

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