Surrey joins 60 cities, which include Paris, Oslo and Mexico City that have committed to the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) protecting writers and artists who are in peril in their own countries because of their professional activities.
“I am proud that we have been designated as Canada’s first City of Refuge for writers and artists who are persecuted, imprisoned or worse for expressing their thoughts or creative ideas,” said Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. “Surrey has a long history of being an open and inclusive community. As we have opened our doors to Syrian refugees, this is another example of our City’s progressive approach to offering a safe haven to those fleeing oppression and persecution.”
Together with partners Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Simon Fraser University, the Surrey Public Library and PEN Canada, Surrey will provide a “safe haven” for a writer-at-risk, giving them a respite from danger, fear and persecution, and a platform to continue their work.
Details of the project were formally announced during Surrey’s Creative City Summit, project coordinator Liz Hughes says the official designation means Surrey will welcome a writer-at-risk to live in the city for two years.
Working with Norway-based ICORN, which qualifies the applications from writers-at-risk, a candidate will be chosen to settle in Surrey. A fundraising campaign is being established to support the writer and the writer’s family, as they become part of the city’s culturally vibrant community.
Judy Villeneuve, Surrey City Councillor, said: “In so many ways, Surrey already is a place of refuge to the thousands of immigrants and refugees who have been welcomed here. As a City of Refuge, it fits with the goals of the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) to strengthen the integration of newcomers and build a more inclusive and welcoming city.”
Helge Lunde, Executive Director, ICORN, said: “More than 100 applications from persecuted writers and artists reach our ICORN office each year. This high number reflects the sad fact that the conditions for those who dare to give voice to ideas and debate, those who challenge existing societal norms and concepts, has in no way improved in the world today.
“We are therefore delighted to have the first Canadian city, the city of Surrey, joining our network to host writers and artists at risk, and take concrete action to protect and promote human rights and freedom of expression. With such strong partners involved, we feel assured that the program will run smoothly and become a model for future ICORN cities of refuge in Canada.”
Anne Giardini, Chancellor of Simon Fraser University, author and former member of the PEN Canada Board of Directors, said: “Surrey is a dynamic, growing community committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive city for all residents. As the latest city to join the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), Surrey joins cities and regions around the world in offering shelter to writers and artists at risk, advancing freedom of expression, defending democratic values and promoting international solidarity.
“In many countries, writers and artists are subject to censorship, harassment, imprisonment, bodily harm and death because of what they say and write. As an ICORN member Surrey will offer long term, temporary shelter to those at risk as a direct consequence of their creative activities.”