LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of British school students on a charity trip to India were sent home from Chennai airport after officials said they had the wrong visas, the school’s headteacher said on Friday, in the latest move against a foreign charity in India.
The 16 students and three staff from Poynton High School in Cheshire in northern England were denied entry by immigration staff for having tourist visas.
Headteacher David Waugh said the school had made three previous trips to support a Macclesfield-based charity, India Direct, which runs two homes for 165 destitute children in Chennai and in a nearby fishing village.
He said the students had always traveled on tourist visas as they did not work for the charity once there but simply visited the homes to deliver toys and other goods.
Waugh reported feelings of “sadness and shock” in the community as the charity has been an integral part of the school since 2005, with students raising more than 27,000 pounds ($35,000) for their work.
“A barrier has been put up between students simply reaching out from here to there,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Waugh said attempts to reach the Indian High Commission were unsuccessful as he was referred to the complaint section of their website.
The Indian High Commission did not respond to a request for comment by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The block on their entry comes after civil society groups in India have come under increased government scrutiny in recent years, particularly since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power.
More than 10,000 charities in India have had their licenses to receive or donate foreign funds canceled or suspended since 2014, hampering their ability to work in areas ranging from housing and education to health and sanitation.
India Direct said attempts to get the immigration decision overturned were unsuccessful, with a disappointing outcome for the students.
“Our hearts go out to this great team of staff and students, who have already made a real difference, and who must be so disappointed,” the charity said on its website.
“As you can imagine the staff and students are in a state of tired shock, having traveled for 48 hours as a round trip.”
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org