Aids orphan choir stopped at the border

Watoto organisation looks after 1,500 Aids orphans in purpose-built villages 14 November 2008. Watoto Children`s Choir may have to cancel its six-months tour of Britain, due to start on 7 January next year. The Home Office demands that each of the 900 families due to host the singers go through a Criminal Records Bureau check with a potential cost of £20,000; the trip has already cost the charity £16,000 in air fares.

The British high commission in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, refused to give visas for the 18 children, aged six to 13, and 10 adults, asking first for Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) certificate provided for adult members of British families that are to provide accommodation for the singers and their chaperones.

The Watoto organisation said the requirement for a minimum of 900 checks, which could rise to more than 2,000 if host families have two or three adult members, to be completed before the group’s departure in less than eight weeks, was "completely unworkable".

The singers were aiming to raise up to £200,000 for child victims of the disease in Uganda. The internationally-renowned choir of Ugandan Aids orphans has performed to the Queen and US president George Bush.

Impossible task
Charles Musgrove, European director of the Watoto group, said: "We perfectly understand and share the need for child protection. Indeed, we have our own very strict rules. But what we are being asked to achieve is impossible. We were told only at the beginning of this week and we have neither the time nor the money for the CRB checks. As matters stand, the tour is wiped out. It is a huge disappointment for the children involved and also for us as an organisation. It is by publicising our work via the choir that we get the funds to carry on."

Under Home Office legislation coming into force on 1 January 2009, anyone hosting an under-16 will be required to undergo an enhanced CRB check, proving they have no outstanding criminal convictions or cautions that would disqualify them from contact with a child. The move means that parents looking after a foreign exchange student, or member of a foreign youth orchestra or sports team, need a CRB check.
Teaching groups have expressed concern that the move will deter many schools from exchange trips with students from France, Germany and elsewhere.

Massive burden
Lord Roberts of Llandudno, a Liberal Democrat spokesman on international development, said: "This is a massive encumbrance for a small charity doing tremendous work. The charity has its own very strict measures in place."

The CRB does not charge volunteers to provide a check. But the application for a certificate can be done only by a registered body, which is entitled to an administration fee, typically between £5 and £10. The Home Office said only that the certificates were required to improve child protection measures for visiting minors. A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "The UK Border Agency is committed to safeguarding children and their welfare. We must ensure appropriate arrangements are in place to protect visiting children. The immigration rules require that suitable arrangements have been made for travel to, and reception and care in the UK."

The Happy Choir
The Watoto Children’s Choir’s have toured internationally since 1994. These choirs bring a message of hope to many parts of the world which include countries such as Uganda, Australia, Canada, UK, USA, South Africa, Brazil, Israel, Germany and France. The choir is made up of children who are part of Watoto’s program.
The Watoto organisation looks after 1,500 Aids orphans in purpose-built villages. Accompanied by adult choir leaders from KPC, Watoto’s performances are a soulful blend of African rhythm, contemporary gospel and ethnic dance. Through their music the choir share their unique stories and express their new found hope. The children’s energy and sincerity continue to inspire audiences all around the world.

The choir performs to give audiences the opportunity to respond to Africa’s HIV/AIDS and war crisis.

Here is a video with Watoto Children’s Choir

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