Today 20 June, on World Refugee Day, the UNHCR Global Trends report finds 65.3 million people, were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015. It is the highest number ever recorded since the UNHCR came into existence, and has brought with it an international political crisis.
The 2015 PEN case list, presented in May this year, details over 1000 cases of harassment, arrests, attacks, killings and imprisonments of writers worldwide and highlights the global deterioration of freedom of expression.
It comes as no surprise when ICORN’s close partner, PEN Writers in Prison Committee, reports that the total number of cases recorded in the 2015 Case List had increased by 17 percent from 2014. The number of writers on trial increased by 22 percent. Most shockingly, they report, is the number of writers killed worldwide in 2015 is 40 per cent higher than 2014.
Only half way into 2016, ICORN has received nearly the same amount of applications as the whole of 2013, a year where the number of applications for ICORN residencies from persecuted writers and artists doubled.
“Most applications in 2015-2016 come from Bangladesh, Syria, Ethiopia and Burundi, while a steady flow of applications continue to arrive from Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Turkey and Russia. The brutal crackdown on freedom of expression and on dissident, the increased (mis)use of anti-terror laws, the daylight slaughters of free-thinkers and the constant and systematical surveillance and censorship to uphold power, as documented by PEN and other partner organisations, force so many writers and artists to flee their countries. Sadly, nothing indicates that conditions will improve, and ICORN is working hard to increase the capacity to give these silenced voices sanctuary and and a free voice. Hopefully, more cities across the globe will join in and share the responsibility to protect and to promote the writers and artists and their work. They make a huge difference both locally and internationally, and more oftan than not, in their home countries and for the silenced voices back home.” Says Helge Lunde, Executive Director of ICORN
Many of the ICORN writers and artists in residence in the Cities of Refuge organise and participate in projects to make the transition for refugees to their new countries more smooth and valuable. One example is Palestinian Rapper Khaled Harara, who runs a project to support newcomers in Sweden, and make their stories into songs to spread out in the world. Read more about the project in the article: How a rapper from Gaza is turning newcomers' stories into songs. The main object of the project he runs from funding Swedish sponsors, is to build a musical society in Gaza over the next four years.
PEN International/PEN International WiPC Case List
PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression. Founded in London in 1921 and now with over 140 independent centres across the globe, PEN International connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work. It is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries through its Writers in Prison Committee, established in 1960 which also offers practical protection measures to persecuted writers. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO.
The work of the WiPC in documenting persecution of writers resulted in the development of PEN’s Case List – an annual record of attacks, imprisonment and persecution of all who use the written word to express themselves, in whatever form.
Read also Eurocities' Open letter from European mayors to EU leaders on World Refugee Day