The Home Office’s refusals to grant a visa to Nayrouz Qarmout means the Palestinian author will not be able to speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, according to her UK publisher.
Comma Press said it had tried three times to get a visa for Qarmout, who was booked to speak at an event called ‘Battling Against the Odds’ with Aberdeen-based writer Leila Aboulela and Sam Baker, editor of The Pool, on Wednesday (15th August).
A Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian a visa has now been issued “on the basis of new information granted” but Comma Press said the delays meant Nayrouz won’t be able to get to Edinburgh in time.
They tweeted: “Miraculously the Home Office reversed their previous decisions this morning, knowing bad press was coming their way. But too late for Nayrouz to actually get her passport back and get the other permits needed to leave Gaza in time for Wednesday. #sorrynayrouz.”
Ra Page, the founder of Comma Press, told the Guardian: “It feels like we’re all sleepwalking into a new age of nativism. We’re not just talking about classic, difficult-to-prove institutional racism. We’re talking about quiet, effective cultural censorship. The Home Office is saying, in effect: British readers shouldn’t be hearing from other perspectives at our book festivals; their voices are of less worth; British voices first.”
The Edinburgh book festival has rearranged a slot for 23rd August but Page said Qarmout may still not be able to get her papers ready in time.
Last week the festival’s director Nick Barley said a dozen authors had been refused visas and that the festival's own artist-in-residence, Ehsan Abdollahi, is still awaiting a final decision.
Barley told The Bookseller: “We are obviously concerned that the challenges of obtaining a UK visa will have a knock-on effect on the international reputation of not only Edinburgh’s Festivals but arts and cultural organisations across the UK...We want to work with arts organisations across the UK, and the UK Government, to ensure that international artists, performers, musicians and authors who are invited to visit the UK by a known arts organisation are able to come to perform and talk about their work without the humiliation of having to provide the level of personal and financial detail currently required."
Abdollahi and his illustrator Marjan Vafaeian are published by Tiny Owl in the UK and are still waiting to see if their visas will come through, said publisher Delaram Ghanimifard. “They applied on 18th July and are still waiting. Marjan was told she needed an interview about her bank statement and then both were told that their cases were not straight-forward and that they’d have to wait, and that they shouldn’t arrange anything to do with their trip.
“It impacts on us [as a publisher] a lot. This is one of the only chances our illustrators will have to come and show their faces and art and work with these children. When we don’t have these opportunities it is like our hands are tied… as though we’re running a race we’re not fit for.”