Report by Astrid Quinn
An equality campaigner from Hull who planned to celebrate her journey as a Syrian refugee at a global beauty pageant this weekend may no longer be able to take part after being denied entry to the United States.
Leen Clive, 29, was crowned Mrs UK World in August 2020, and was due to represent the United Kingdom at the Mrs World pageant, a seven-day event starting in Las Vegas on January 9.
But the US Embassy in London has denied her entry to the country under the Visa Waiver Program - a refusal Leen believes can only be related to her Syrian background.
Her husband Nigel Clive, a barrister from Hull, and their six-month-old daughter Arabella, were both granted authorisation to travel as part of the same online application process, which usually takes about three hours.
Unless the matter is resolved, it will be the first time the UK has not been represented at the event in its 37-year history.
Leen said: “It feels hopeless in a way. I’ve tried to sort it out and it just feels like it’s not happening.
“It’s not because of a proper reason. Sixty countries are eligible to go and I’m the only one that’s not eligible. I’m British but coming from a certain background. It’s because of my Syrian background.”
Leen is now hoping the embassy will urgently review her case and reverse its decision.
She is being supported by the event organisers - who describe it as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” - and her local MP Emma Hardy, who have both contacted the embassy urging it to reconsider.
Her participation in the event would be another triumph in a remarkable life story in which Leen has repeatedly shown that determination and talent can overcome adversity.
She was born in Damascus and fled Syria with her mother in just the clothes they stood up in and arrived in the UK in 2013.
She could not speak English but studied the language alongside a degree in biomedical science at Sheffield Hallam University, where she graduated in 2019 and is about to embark on her final training to become an NHS doctor.
She was granted British citizenship in August 2020.
Leen, who is about to embark on her final training to realise her dream of becoming an NHS doctor, is also an ambassador for several charities and an interpreter for UNHCR, while also being a model and a presenter on Albanian TV.
“She’s done more here than I have in my entire life,” Nigel said.
The couple met at a week-long intensive fight training camp in Transylvania, Romania, nearly five years ago.
“After her experience of upheaval as a refugee, Leen believes that every woman should be able to defend herself,” Nigel said. “I fell for her after she chipped a tooth but got straight back into the fight.”
One of the organisations Leen represents is Sona Circle, a non-profit social enterprise which works with employers to provide work opportunities for refugees. It was one of the projects she was intending to champion as part of her bid to be Mrs World, a situation she now finds ironic.
“Sona Circle support people who have been treated unfairly,” she said. “It was my message to talk about it and take it worldwide – I am talking about it worldwide now, but just in a different way.”
Leen said “the UK has given me everything”, and said of her candidacy: “I came here as a refugee because it was a life-threatening situation. We had to escape, it wasn’t planned, we just left with our handbags, me and my mum.
“My campaign was all about equal opportunities – it doesn’t matter what your background is, if you’re willing to put the work in you can get there. It was a reflection of how I’ve felt in the UK.
“I’ve been treated the same as anyone else, they never made me feel an outsider, but I feel like an outsider now this has happened.”
Appealing to the embassy to grant Leen a visa, Elaine Marmel, the president and CEO of Mrs World, wrote: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Mrs Clive to compete at the Mrs World pageant, and this is a huge honour for the United Kingdom to have their delegate … represented at the most prestigious pageant in the world.”
Ms Hardy, the Hull West and Hessle MP, said: “I’m keen for this matter to be resolved as quickly as possible. It’s fantastic that Leen is using this platform to promote equality and her story, going from a refugee to representing our country.
“As her local MP I’ll use what influence I have to try to get this resolved as soon as we can.”
The US Embassy has been approached for comment.