Afghan Youth Orchestra plays in UK after visa denial reversed

Musicians in the Afghan Youth Orchestra (AYO) have said it is a “fantastic experience” to play in the UK after initially being denied visas to enter the country.

The Home Office had refused the AYO’s entry applications, but reversed the decision on Monday.

The orchestra 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.

Afghan Youth Orchestra performing
The performers were granted asylum in Portugal (Lucy North/PA)

Ali told the PA news agency: “It was complicated but in the end it was OK – that’s the musician life, and it’s amazing to be here now.

“It’s really nice to have new friends from the UK and to meet new people and it’s a fantastic experience to play in such a great hall.”

Afghan Youth Orchestra guitarist performs
The Home Office initially refused the AYO’s application for visas (Lucy North/PA)

The Sama Arts Network artistic director, Jay Visvadeva, whose organisation arranged the UK tour, said the Home Office’s original decision was “callous and inhumane”.

“After working for seven months and spending several thousand pounds in visa, biometric and surcharges, my heart sank in disbelief at (the Home Office’s) callous and inhumane decision,” Mr Visvadeva said.

Afghan Youth Orchestra player
The orchestra performed in London as part of their Breaking the Silence tour (Lucy North/PA)

“Once the pressure had reached the Home Office, the penny had dropped and they realised their error of judgment and slowly started to reverse its decision.”

On Thursday evening, the group played the first show of their UK “Breaking the Silence” tour at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Afghan Youth Orchestra perform in concert hall
The musicians had fled Afghanistan after the return of the Taliban (Lucy North/PA)

“We are the voice of women in Afghanistan. We are the voice of the people in Afghanistan who just want to live and that’s why we are here – to break the silence.”

Mr Visvadeva added he hoped that collaboration between the young British and Afghan musicians would “inspire and give hope to those highly traumatised young members of the Afghan orchestra”.

Afghan Youth Orchestra visas
After the provision of additional information, the Government granted entry to the orchestra (Lucy North/PA)

“We show our music to people, we get to share music, and it’s really great.”

The musicians will also perform in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Afghan Youth Orchestra practice their show
The ensemble said they had met new friends in the UK (Lucy North/PA)

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.”

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