Here is the Scottish PEN statement on the refusal of over a dozen visa applications for writers scheduled to speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Scottish PEN condemns the Home Office’s decision to block a number of visa applications for writers intending to take part in this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.
With frustrating regularity as we welcome the Edinburgh International Book Festival we now need to anticipate the Home Office’s hard-line approach to approving visas for visiting writers. The PEN Charter affirms that “Literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals.” Reports state a dozen writers from Middle Eastern and African countries, alongside one writer from Belarus have had their visa applications refused. This sends a worrying signal that the UK is not open to international writers and is a damning indictment of the UK Government’s hollow commitment to free expression and cultural exchange.
Following the hateful ‘hostile environment’ strategy and the Windrush Tragedy, the new Home Secretary Sajid Javid committed to reform the UK Government’s immigration policy and we are saddened that there is little evidence of any positive action that ensures the UK can welcome those who travel here.
The visa process is labyrinthine, inconsistent and establishes a number of obligations on writers that are often difficult to satisfy. As outlined by Edinburgh International Book Festival Director, Nick Barley, writers are expected to adhere to a number of changeable or vague rules: “One [writer] was told he had too much money and it looked suspicious for a short trip. Another was told she didn’t have enough, so she transferred £500 into the account – and then was told that £500 looked suspicious.”
The Edinburgh International Book Festival benefits the whole of the UK, but the Home Office’s repeated actions to restrict writers’ ability to share their work undermines everything the festival stands for. We call on Sajid Javid to ensure this does not become part of the yearly tradition. If it does, writers may decide to avoid UK festivals altogether, leaving the UK’s cultural landscape weaker as a result.