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Human Rights Day – PEN demands greater protection for refugees

Thursday 10 December 2015 - 10:23am


10 December 2015 - As PEN Centres around the world today mark Human Rights Day we celebrate our long tradition of giving protection for writers at risk and urge the international community to uphold their humanitarian and legal obligations to protect people facing persecution.

2015 has been marked by one of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Compelled by persecution and war, over 900,000 people have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of sanctuary. Over 3,500 have died making this journey.

Throughout this year, the world has watched in horror as this human nightmare has unfolded amidst a rise in polemic, violent speech aimed at some of the world’s most vulnerable people. While some governments have been exemplary in providing sanctuary, others have responded to this crisis by shutting down borders and increasing restrictions on freedom of expression such as through the radical expansion of surveillance,’  said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

PEN’s Charter makes our obligation to populations at risk clear – we cannot separate our decades-long experience in protecting persecuted writers from our broader humanitarian mandate aimed at creating peace, dialogue and protecting those most at risk.’

Throughout this year, PEN has been campaigning at the national, European and global level for a more coordinated, humanitarian approach to providing safety to those at most risk.

In April, a delegation of PEN members met with the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, to present a petition signed by over a thousand writers asking European member states to meet their humanitarian obligations to protect refugees through common, humane asylum laws.  In October, at PEN International’s 81st Congress in Quebec, delegates passed a resolution calling on all nations to meet their humanitarian and legal obligations to those fleeing persecution.

While people in Europe and around the world have demonstrated extraordinary solidarity with asylum-seeking families as they make their journeys across the continent, European institutions and governments have remained divided and chaotic in their response to this humanitarian crisis.

PEN’s expanding programme of protection work with writers at risk shows the urgent need for expanded visa and sponsorship programmes, scholarships, and other ways for writers facing persecution to enter other countries legally. They should also have the freedom to express themselves in their adopted countries. Furthermore, family reunification must become an accessible option for many more people than is currently the case,’ said PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee Chair, Salil Tripathi.

The lack of legal routes to find safety in Europe is at the heart of this problem,’ said German PEN President Josef Haslinger.

Thousands of refugee parents are risking the lives of their children on unsafe smuggling boats primarily because they have no other choice. European countries – as well as governments in other regions, especially North America and the Gulf States – must make some fundamental changes to allow for larger resettlement and humanitarian admission quotas.’

On International Human Rights Day, PEN reiterates our call to the international community to:

  • Substantially increase the number of refugee resettlement spaces;
  • Develop refugee determination processes that are timely, fair and treat every claimant with dignity;
  • Refrain from violent policies and practices that aim to deter or prevent people from crossing their borders;
  • Provide more funding to support countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees fleeing conflict, including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey
  • Call on refugee-hosting communities and governments to facilitate access to basic social services for asylum seekers and refugees;
  • Take all possible measures to combat xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment;
  • Address the inadequacy of legislation to deal humanely with individuals caught in crisis


Celebrating Human Rights Day 2015