More than 60 cities around the globe offer a safe space where writers and artists at risk can live and work through the ICORN programme.
The International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) is a membership organisation of cities and regions around the world that offer a long term temporary residency for persecuted writers and artists to stay and work.
These cities and regions are the cornerstones of ICORN and share a common mission: to preserve freedom of expression and to respond to politically motivated threats and persecution that writers and artists face in their home countries and beyond.
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.
A mutually beneficial network
More than 50 cities have committet to the ICORN Charter. Together, they have hosted more than 130 writers/artists at risk. By joining us, your city becomes part of a dynamic and global network of solidarity, creativity and mutual interaction. ICORN brings together cities and writers and artists in the network and hosts an annual gathering of all parties in one of the member cities. A wonderful assembly of writers/artists, city representatives, partners and human rights organisations from all over the world meet to assess and scrutinize the situation for freedom of expression and to explore new and imaginative ways of confronting repressive regimes and authorities where basic human rights are under attack.
ICORN writers and artists represent a rich resource for the entire network of cities. They bring new impulses to the cultural life of each city; they contribute to enhancing knowledge about different cultures in your city. They enrich our debate, our insight and our understanding.
Who can become a member of ICORN?
Any city willing to work for freedom of expression for writers and artists and commit to the terms in the membership agreement can join ICORN and become a city of refuge.
In signing the membership agreement with ICORN, your city agrees to:
- Arrange for the relocation and reception of the writer/artist to the city.
- Facilitate the acquisition of a legal status for the writer/artist.
- Provide the writer/artist and his/her family with an appropriate dwelling.
- Provide the writer/artist with an appropriate scholarship/grant for his/her period of stay.
- Help the writer/artist to integrate with the local community, both socially and artistically.
- Appoint a City of Refuge coordinator to support the writer/artist in legal and practical matters.
How does a city become a member of ICORN?
By signing and committing to the ICORN Membership Agreement. Before committing to the Membership Agreement, your city needs to identify formal partners, establish finance and backing for the programme, find a coordinating institution and an accommodation for the writer/artist. Financing and running a city of refuge varies from city to city. You city's management model will depend on its national and city's own laws and regulations, partnerships, cultural offers and funding opportunities. ICORN will assist you in finding the best solution for your city.
In Paris city of refuge, the Municipality of Paris is the official ICORN host, partnered by among others Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris Biblilothèques, Reporters Sans Frontières and Maison des Journalistes.
In Brussels, it is the international house of literature, Passaporta, that handles the daily running of the programme. They also have an agreement with four universities, which partly sponsors the hosted writer/artist, on the condition that the hosted writer/artist participate in lectures and workshops at the universities.
Both Barcelona and Girona cities of refuge are primarily financed by the city and coordinated by Catalan PEN.
In Scandinavia, a city of refuge is typically run by the public library and sometimes by social security or refugee organisations. Skien city of refuge, Norway, is managed in a partnership between the Municipality of Skien and the public library. Managing institutions/partners in Levanger in Norway is Levanger library, Levanger Cultural office and Levanger Refugee office, whereas the Municipality of Växjö, Sweden, is member of ICORN and the programme is managed by
the culture and leisure services/The House for Free Speech.
You can visit the individual city pages to learn more about how the cities of refuge are managed.
Make a difference and sign up!
Since the world has not become a safer place for those who campaign for human rights, we need more member cities, to be able to help as many as possible to keep up the constant struggle for freedom of expression, so vital to the health of a free society.
We encourage any city/person/organisation that wishes get involved in ICORN to contact us to find solutions to join us in the network.
You can find more information in the membership agreement about the nature of the commitment and cooperation between each city and ICORN.
FAQ for cities of refuge and writers/artists at risk
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.