Efforts to allow two runners from Gaza to come Derry to compete in the Walled City Marathon on Sunday are continuing.
Nader al Massri, who represented Palestine at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, and Sami Nateel had been due to arrive in Derry today (Friday) but their visa applications were rejected by the British Home Office.
The ‘Journal’ contacted the Home Office and a spokesperson said “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”
Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle, Raymond McCartney, admitted that even if the British Government was to grant the two men entry into the North it was unlikely that they would arrive in time for Sunday’s race.
The ‘Journal’ understands that if the two men were to be able to take part in the marathon they would have had to have left Gaza yesterday.
“We have spoken to representatives of the two men in Gaza and they have told us that they want us [Sinn Fein] to keep trying,” explained Mr. McCartney.
“The two men are determined to make it to Derry eventually and should they have to complete the Walled City Marathon route at a later stage then so be it - I am sure there are plenty of people in Derry who would be more than delighted to run the route with them.”
Mr. McCartney continued: “Martin McGuinness’ office has been in contact with British Government officials to protest at this decision,”said Mr. McCartney.
“We all remember the colour and joy which the Palestinians brought to the Derry marathon last year. They received a fantastic welcome which they hugely appreciated and the organisers deserve great credit for that and for inviting Nader and Sami to come over this year so it seems ludicrous to now say that their compatriots can’t make the same trip.
The Derry branch of the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (I.P.S.C.) branded the British Government’s decision to deny visas to the two men and “inexplicable”.
“We are hugely disappointed and angered at this decision,” said Derry I.P.S.C. chairperson, Catherine Hutton.
“There was a large group of Palestinians who came to take part in the Derry Marathon last year and it was a massive success so we find it inexplicable that the immigration service would deny them the right to travel this year.
“It is highly ironic that, on this occasion at least, the Israelis were willing to allow them to travel to Derry but it is the UK authorities who have denied them entry.”