Last year, 19 people arrived to 18 ICORN cities, almost matching the numbers of the preceding years. This was more than the organization dared to hope in March and April, as country after country closed their borders and air traffic was halted. The new residents came from Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Eritrea, Israel, Turkey, Yemen and Palestine. More than half of them are women. The residents represent a variety of professions, including journalists, writers, poets, bloggers, and musicians. Eight of them were also able to bring along a partner and/or children.
These uplifting results in 2020 would not have been possible without the great efforts of the ICORN member cities. The fact that so many were able to consider and respond to the plight of persecuted writers and artists, despite an uncertain and challenging time, is incredibly inspiring. Unfortunately, the need for Cities of Refuge is greater than ever.
“The majority of the people who contact ICORN for help have been forced to leave their homeland. Many stay there without legal status, without an income and without speaking the local language. They are affected especially hard by the pandemic. Every day, emergencies are brought to our attention. Medical assistance is lacking. Sources of income disappear. Food gets more expensive. Reliable information in a language that is understandable is nowhere to be found. Sadly, we also hear frequent reports that the pandemic is being used by authorities as an excuse for implementing further restrictions on free speech” says Marianne Wulfsberg Hovdan, Protection Manager at ICORN.
For 2021 and the coming years, ICORN seeks to facilitate more residencies that can include families in their invitations, as only 49 of 138 applications in 2020 came from single candidates. Journalists still make up the largest group of applicants, followed by writers or poets. For the first time we saw a significant rise in applications from non-writers such as musicians and artists. ICORN continues to have a historically high number of female applicants, at 25%. As ICORN has observed that women often confront compounding risks that exacerbate their vulnerable situations (especially after having fled their home country), many female applicants are invited after a shorter waiting time than male applicants. The largest number of applicants came from Iran, followed by Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Egypt.
During 2020, two new member cities joined the network: Nesodden, Norway and Detroit, USA.