More than 70 cities around the globe offer a safe space where writers and artists at risk can live and work through the ICORN programme. Scottish PEN has been working in partnership with ICORN for several years and is keen to support the establishment of the first cities of refuge in Scotland.
More than 70 cities around the globe offer a safe space where writers and artists at risk can live and work through the ICORN programme. Scottish PEN has been working in partnership with ICORN for several years and is keen to support the establishment of the first cities of refuge in Scotland. Find out more about ICORN on this page, and get in touch if you feel your city could be the first in the UK to host a writer as part of this important global network.
‘Writers and artists are especially vulnerable to censorship, harassment, imprisonment and even death, because of what they do. They represent the liberating gift of the human imagination and give voice to thoughts, ideas, debate and critique, disseminated to a wide audience. They also tend to be the first to speak out and resist when free speech is threatened.’ICORN
The International City of Refuge Network (ICORN) has long been one of PEN International’s most important partners. In 2005, key representatives from PEN International met to set up a sustainable network to protect persecuted writers. ICORN was officially founded in 2006, with PEN International and ICORN signing an official cooperation agreement.
ICORN cooperates closely with PEN International and local PEN centres to enable writers to continue their work and keep up the fight for freedom of expression. Behind the scenes, PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee research the link between the persecution and the artistic activities of applicants, and work to establish connections with Cities of Refuge and local PEN centres.
A joint ICORN and PEN International event is held every two years, and mixes debate with discussion, music with poetry readings, and more. In May 2019, over 300 writers, artists, activists, city representatives, sister networks and experts from around the globe met in Rotterdam to explore what it means to be at home in today’s world, when ‘home’ becomes increasingly hard to identify.
PEN International also supports centres around the world with the practical requirements of supporting an ICORN placement, including navigating the visa process, drafting applications and lending its expertise of the administrative processes associated for a host city.
The Protection team at PEN International’s headquarters in London collaborate closely with ICORN on their work with writers applying to join the programme, and many Centres support and help to host their local guest writer. As the Scottish centre of PEN International, Scottish PEN is the key link between organisations, and is keen to support the hosting of as many persecuted writers and artists as possible in ICORN cities across Scotland.
All successful ICORN placements are formed of diverse support networks, usually formed of a funding organisation, a host city administration and the support of a PEN centre or other arts organisation focused on writers and free expression.
For example, both Barcelona and Girona cities of refuge are primarily financed by the city and coordinated by Catalan PEN.
Did you know? Norway, which has a similar population to Scotland, has established 13 host cities with ICORN.
Any writer or artist who is threatened or persecuted for expressing their opinions or ideas, through professional and/or artistic work is invited to apply for an ICORN residency. This includes:
PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee annually monitors between 8-900 cases of writers and artists who are persecuted as a direct consequence of their work. Many still need a safe place. Through ICORN, your city could enable these writers and artists to continue their work and keep up the fight for freedom of expression, so vital to the health of a free society.
This commitment by ICORN cities and regions is both very concrete and deeply symbolic: one agent for change (a writer or artist) escapes from imminent threats and persecution; your city offers sanctuary; and the values of hospitality, solidarity and freedom of expression become further enshrined within the ethos of your city.
ICORN protects and promotes an increasingly wide range of writers, artists and human rights defenders, including bloggers, novelists, playwrights, journalists, musicians, poets, non-fiction writers, visual artists, cartoonists, singer/songwriters, translators, screenwriters and publishers. ICORN enables them to continue to express themselves freely in a place where they are safe, but not silent.
A city becomes a member of ICORN by signing and committing to the ICORN Membership Agreement. Before committing to the Membership Agreement, city’s needs to:
Financing and running a city of refuge varies from city to city and Scottish PEN is keen to lend its support to find the best solution for Scottish cities.
With a diverse membership of over 350 writers across Scotland, opportunities to publish a writer’s work, a calendar of events and networking opportunities, and the ability to connect writers with other writer’s at risk and PEN centres internationally, Scottish PEN is well positioned to build on the learning of other PEN centres, and make any ICORN placement a success.
Please see the FAQ for ICORN Cities of Refuge for more details on being a city of refuge.
You can also learn more about ICORN writers/artists residencies in the FAQ for writers/artists at risk.
ICORN cities of refuge have hosted more than 200 persecuted writers and artists since 2006. Browse this list of former and current ICORN writers/artists for more information about each individual writer/artist.
If you feel your city or organisation could support the establishment of Scotland’s first International City of Refuge, please get in touch.
Interview with poet and translator Asieh Amini, who discusses migration as a mother, what it means to be ‘an exile’, and the world’s shifting borders: