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On World Refugee Day PEN International asks international community to “make space” for displaced writers

Wednesday 20 June 2018 - 10:22am

Basim Mardan, Dessale Berekhet Abraham, Asieh Amini and Naila Ana at the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum

To mark World Refugee Day, PEN International is highlighting the specific challenges faced by writers forced to flee their homes due to persecution for their professional work. The organisation has published a briefing outlining its global campaign, Make Space, in support of displaced writers. The campaign builds on PEN International's long history of collaborating with writers who are refugees and asylum seekers, advocating for their rights, and providing financial, professional, and social assistance to them from within its Centres around the world. It’s also part of PEN’s core mission to counter hatred and discrimination, and to do so my promoting culture, art, and free expression.

‘Writers - whether they are journalists, poets, bloggers - are on the front line of critical reporting and storytelling on issues such as conflict, corruption or human rights violations, which often makes them targets of increased persecution. We work daily with writers who are facing harassment, threats, imprisonment and violence. PEN’s Make Space campaign is part of our almost 100 years of working to protect writers at risk and ensuring that they have a safe space to continue their work and have their voices heard.’ – said PEN International's Ebony Riddell-Bamber. 

PEN’s Make Space campaign was launched in 2017 and backed by diverse writers from across PEN’s global membership - aiming to create opportunities for writers who have experienced forced displacement or are living in exile. The organization is also calling upon the international community to recognize the specific protection needs of displaced and refugee writers, and provide more relocation programmes for writers, such as that provided by the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN); one of PEN International’s main partners in protecting writers at risk.

The campaign has been supported by more than 200 writers, Nobel Laureates, PEN Centres and PEN’s Writers Circle members including PEN President Jennifer Clement, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Elfriede Jelinek, Ahmedurrashid Tutul, Stephen Fry, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Salman Rushdie, Ece Temelkuran, Sanna Aoun, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Yann Martel, Mario Vargas Llosa, Sofi Oksanen, Urvashi Butalia, Chigozie Obioma, DBC Pierre, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Isabel Allende, Inua Ellams, Ocean Vuong, Rafeef Ziadah, Elena Poniatowska, John Raulston Saul, and Viet Thanh Nguyen. An extract of the he statement reads:

‘Some of us have been displaced; some of us are refugees and asylum seekers; some of us have lived in exile or have been forced to go into hiding in our own countries. But we are all writers and use words in ways that can shift and inform the society around us. And – whoever we are, wherever we are - when we consciously make space for the stories of displaced communities within our own, we make space for a shared cultural understanding that enriches us and connects us, disrupting the systems of division that alienate and dehumanise. It is time to act, and to act together.’

Through this work, PEN is creating opportunities to promote the writing of displaced and refugee writers; strengthening voices of displaced writers in global migration debates; broadening the impact and reach of our protection work with writers at risk and countering xenophobia and hate.

Renowned Chilean writer Isabel Allende, who herself was a refugee, said of the campaign’s hope to challenge xenophobia through cultural sharing and literature:

It’s very easy to create a sense of hatred when you talk numbers, but when you see the faces of people, when you look at them in the eye one by one, then the whole thing changes, and that’s what art and literature can do.’

Read the briefing in full here. Read the Make Space mission statement here.

Notes to editors:

PEN International celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, our global community of writers now comprises 144 Centres spanning more than 100 countries. Our programmes, campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers for global solidarity and cooperation. PEN International is a non-political organization and holds consultative status at the United Nations and UNESCO.

For more information please contact Sahar Halaimzai: | + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 #MakeSpace | |Twitter: @pen_int