A dozen authors from African and Middle East countries, who were scheduled to participate at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, have had their visas refused at least once by the UK Home Office. The director of the festival Nick Barely called the act “humiliating and embarrassing”.
According to the director of the festival that starts on Saturday, around 900 authors and illustrators from 55 countries will be appearing at the festival. However, Barley claims that many of them have gone through an extremely difficult process to obtain a UK visa, while others had their visas rejected.
“We’ve had to draw on the help of MPs, MSPs, ambassadors and senior people in the British Council and Home Office to overturn visa decisions that looked set to be rejected,” Barley said, adding that the organizers of the festival have come to understand that the visa problematic is serious and is damaging Britain’s reputation abroad.
The festival, which is organized annually, has seen a jump in visa refusals in the recent years for its participants to which it provides assistance in visa applications.
“We’ve had so many problems with visas; we’ve realized it is systematic. This is so serious. We want to talk about it and resolve it, not just for [this festival], but for cultural organizations UK-wide. The amount of energy, money and time that has gone into this is problematic,” he said, claiming that there needs to be a fix.
Talking about the reasons given for visa rejections, Barley called the situation humiliating, giving some examples why Home Office denied issue visa to these authors.
“One was told he had too much money and it looked suspicious for a short trip. Another was told she didn’t have enough, so she transferred £500 into the account – and then was told that £500 looked suspicious,” he explained calling it Kafkaesque and claiming that it shouldn’t be the case that thousands of pounds should be spent to fulfil a legitimate visa request.
Barley’s comments follow those of Peter Gabriel, who harshly criticized the UK foreign policy, about a week ago.
“Do we really want a white-breaded Brexited flatland? A country that is losing the will to welcome the world,” Gabriel, founder of the Womad festival asked, after at least three musical acts found they would be unable to perform at Womad, because of visa complications.
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.