A dozen of authors from African and Middle East countries, who were scheduled to participate at last year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, had failed to participate after their visa applications were rejected at least once by the UK Home Office. Organizers of the festival fear that the same may happen this year, thus stopping authors from attending the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Though the artistic director of the festival Nick Barley, says it is too early to tell if any of those invited will have their visas rejected, he fears that the events of last year may repeat, which he says have caused “considerable reputational damage”.
“Over the last 12 months I’ve had a number of writers who are concerned. I can’t say for certain anyone has refused to come but I know there are concerns and I fear that the situation will only get worse if we have more visa problems this year,” Barley says.
He explains that due to the rejected applications last year, there is a knock-on impact on people’s decisions on whether or not to attend the festival.
“There is a real risk that if this is not resolved in future then we will have people who cannot get a visa and we will have people who decided it is not worth bothering,” he fears, adding that Edinburgh could lose out to other festivals elsewhere in the world.
Last year, writer Palestinian Nayrouz Qarmout was among those whose visas were rejected. She was rejected three times before getting the visa. This year there are 900 writers from 65 countries invited to the festival, the largest number of invitees so far.
Home office has not responded to the criticism; however, a spokesperson said that the UK is welcoming to artists.
“We welcome artists and performers coming to the UK to perform, and appreciate the important contribution they make to our creative sector,” the spokesperson said.
Data released by the UK government show that visa applications from the Middle East have quickly increased in the last decade. Only in 2007, 18% of 5,248 applications filed by Syrian nationals were refused, which number went up to 68% in 2016 though applications dropped to 3,695.