The men were told they would not be allowed to come to Britain in case they did not return to the wartorn region. One clergyman was told it was against UK government policy to grant a Syrian a visa.

Archbishop of Mosul Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, Archbishop of St Matthew’s Diocese Timothius Mousa Shamani and Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs in Syria were due to visit the UK at the end of November. They were coming to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox cathedral, which was attended by Prince Charles (see ‘people in the news’).

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All visa applications are considered on their individual merits and applicants must provide evidence to show they meet the requirements of the immigration rules.”

Rt Revd Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol, said: “It all seems rather odd. I don’t know whether there will be some under-the-radar discussions and some assurances about their financial support.”

He added: “The government was anxious they might try to claim asylum while they’re here. The government’s – and successive governments’ – approach to asylum seekers has been a bit of a mixed bag.

“I’m hoping there might be some further discussions that will pave the way for these men to come.”