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LWF General Secretary Steps Up Appeal to Canadian Officials

Noko Asks for Answers Regarding Allegations of Criminal Activity

WINNIPEG, Canada, 25 July 2003 - At a special press conference, the Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), released a letter that he had just faxed to the Hon. Denis Coderre, Minister for Citizenship and Immigration for Canada, requesting answers about the 50 individuals who were denied visas to attend the Tenth Assembly of the LWF.

Specifically Noko asked Coderre to respond to allegations, reported in the press as supposedly stemming from ‘federal sources,’ that the individuals denied visas include "alleged murderers, embezzlers of church funds and other criminals." Noko wrote, "I ask you urgently to inform me if these reported allegations are indeed emanating from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and if they correctly represent the position of your Ministry."

He concluded his letter, "I ask you to provide full particulars of the allegations and the individuals concerned, so that they may have the opportunity of responding so that those whose reputations have been damaged by association may take the appropriate action."

In a letter dated July 7, but which Noko reported was received at the Geneva Secretariat by fax on July 24, Coderre had responded to Noko’s appeals concerning the denied visas by clarifying Canada’s visa policies in general terms but never mentioning the possibility of any illegal activities on the part of the applicants in question. Noko said, "That letter just didn’t correspond to the allegations and rumors we have heard." He added, "I am just seeking verification."

At the press conference, Noko acknowledged that at this half-way point in the Assembly, there is little hope that the visas will be granted or that the delegates will be able to travel. However, said Noko, "We have a quorum, so we can proceed with the business of the Assembly."

Nonetheless, the General Secretary stated, "We would like to find a way to close this matter with the government of Canada. It is a wound that should be healed." He lauded Canadian hospitality and said he hopes that Assembly participants will go home as "good ambassadors for Canada."

The allegations of criminal and other illegal activity relate primarily to the 26 delegates for India’s poorest and most marginalized states. Others denied visas also come from poorer nations including Bangladesh, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Liberia, Madagascar, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Africa.

"Often," Noko said, pointing to the example of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan/Palestine, "the small, suffering churches carry the cross for the larger churches."

There was one bit of good news at the end of the press conference. Karin Achtelstetter, director of the LWF Office for Communication Services announced that one TV journalist from Madagascar had been granted a visa and would arrive around midnight tonight at the Winnipeg airport.

The Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place 21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth Assembly including 380 delegates from the 133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years. Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets annually, and by its Executive Committee.

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