Syrian author Samar Yazbek was prevented from appearing at the Ways with Words literary festival in Devon on Friday (13th July) after being held at the Gare du Nord in Paris despite assurances from the British Embassy that she would be able to make the journey.
The refugee, whose book A Woman In The Crossfire (Haus Publishing) is a diary of the first 100 days of the violent struggle in Syria, finally managed to make her way to Britain over the weekend, but publisher Barbara Schwepcke said the process has been “a bureaucratic nightmare”.
Schwepcke said: “We had been planning the visit for a while, and had worked hard with groups like PEN who are experts with helping writers travel. They had assurances from the Home Office and the embassy in Paris that she would be able to come here with her current status and visa. However, when she got up to Gare du Nord, they said ‘no’.”
Schwepcke added that although she understood security concerns were prevalent, there had to be space for artists to travel freely. She said: “Perhaps with the Olympics there is extra concern, but someone like Ms Yazbek has a very important story to tell. She has seen things in Syria firsthand and escaped to talk about them, and support the brave people who are still there on the streets fighting for their human rights.”
Heather Norman Somerlind, acting director at English PEN, said: “We have run a campaign to improve the rights of visiting artists. Things have got a lot better but there are still cases which surprise us. We will always need to do more to ensure that writers with legitimate reasons to travel can do so.”