As dangerous conditions intensified across the globe this year for writers, artists, and journalists, the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) persisted in its work to offer them protection.
Ongoing conflict in in Yemen, Ethiopia, and Myanmar, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and unrest in Afghanistan and Iran especially have put strain on the organization. But through these challenges, ICORN has welcomed 21 new residents to its Cities of Refuge, including in Ithaca, New York; and for the first time in Lyon, France, and Fredrikstad, Norway.
ICORN noted how rising instability has damaged human rights throughout the world, and Reporters Without Borders’ 20th World Press Freedom Index has shown democracy struggling amid a “two-fold increase in polarisation, amplified by information chaos.” Attacks on freedom of expression have continued, including with the murder of 57 journalists, the detainment of many more, and the attack on Salman Rushdie in Chautauqua, New York, on August 12th.
This has made ICORN’s work yet more pressing, with an imperative to defend against censorship and violence while celebrating human imagination and international solidarity. Such was the effect of the writing, new membership, and wide-reaching programs in Cities of Refuge this year.
In Stockholm, Sweden, Afghan ICORN resident Zahra Hussain organized “A Night with Buddha” soon after arriving in the city. This festival of dance, poetry, music, and discussion aimed to celebrate Afghan heritage and commemorate the Buddha statutes destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.
Fatemeh Ekhtesari’s latest poetry collection, “Hun er ikke kvinne” (“She is not a woman”), came in solidarity with Iran’s biggest and longest lasting protests since the 1978 Revolution. And after the death of Mahsa Amini, Farima Habashizadehasl, better known as the rapper Justina, released the song “Revolution.”
During Banned Books Week in September, ICORN and CoA residents toured three U.S. cities in solidarity with writers after the attack on Salman Rushdie. Dmitry Bykov, Pwaangulongii Dauod, Pedro X. Molina, and Anouar Rahmani made stops in Ithaca, Pittsburgh, and Detroit to share the urgency of free expression in the face of persecution.
ICORN also held its general assembly in Gdańsk, Poland, where over 250 ICORN members, residents, and representatives gathered for performances, panels, discussions, and workshops after three years of pandemic disruption. In March 2023, the organization will hold a Network Meeting in Brussels.
Image: Some of the 2022 ICORN residents. From top left: Evan Hikmat (Iraq/Haugesund), Vafa Mehraeen (Iran/Brussels), Jannatun Nayeem Prity (Bangladesh/Paris), LAZA (Yemen/Lyon), Hiro Mohammadamini and Frya Ahmadi (Kurdish Iranian/ Umeå), Leila Ghahremani (Iran/Fredrikstad)