A global campaign hailed by Salman Rushdie as â€œa significant public stand against racism and xenophobiaâ€ has been launched, backed by more than 200 leading writers and artists, including Ai Weiwei, Margaret Atwood and Isabel Allende.
The Make Space campaign by PEN International will focus over the next three years on writers displaced through persecution and censorship, with Rushdie calling the project â€œa concerted effort from the heart of the literary industry to make opportunities for writers representative and fair.â€
The project will focus on events, publications and advocacy, coordinated by the human rights charityâ€™s 144 centres around the world. It aims to challenge stereotypes of asylum seekers and combat growing hostility towards refugees in host nations, as well as address the increasingly perilous situations facing journalists and writers worldwide.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei welcomed the initiative as an attempt to amplify marginalised voices, saying: â€œLiterature is a place where we can construct new realities together, but unless the literature available to us is representative, those new realities threaten to reconstruct the prejudice and discrimination of the world we live in.â€
The House of the Spirits author Allende, who was forced into exile 40 years ago, after a military coup against her cousin, Chilean president Salvador Allende, said literature was vital to challenge negative attitudes towards refugees. â€œItâ€™s very easy to create a sense of hatred when you talk numbers, but when you see the faces of people, when you look at them in the eye one by one, then the whole thing changes, and thatâ€™s what art and literature can do,â€ she said, at the launch of the campaign in Norway.
Other luminaries from the books world signing the campaignâ€™s mission statement included Rushdieâ€™s fellow Man Booker prize recipients Yann Martel and DBC Pierre alongside Mario Vargas Llosa, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Noo Saro-Wiwa and Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Noting that one in 113 of the worldâ€™s population has been forced from their home, as xenophobic rhetoric from mainstream politicians has created uncertainty and danger for refugees in host nations, the statement reads: â€œSome of us have been displaced; some of us are refugees and asylum seekers; some of us have lived in exile, or have been forced to go into hiding in our own countries. But we are all writers and use words in ways that can shift and inform the society around us.â€
It adds: â€œAnd â€“ whoever we are, wherever we are â€“ when we consciously make space for the stories of displaced communities within our own, we make space for a shared cultural understanding that enriches us and connects us, disrupting the systems of division that alienate and dehumanise. It is time to act, and to act together.â€
As well as helping applications for asylum, PEN also provides emergency assistance, including help with safe passage. It has seen increasing numbers of writers seeking to flee oppression: last year, 93 were assessed by PEN on behalf of the International Cities of Refuge Network, up 38% on 2015. Most came from the Middle East, a spokeswoman added, with writers facing persecution for â€œoffending public moralsâ€, blasphemy and political dissent.
Last year, Turkey imprisoned 81 journalists, more than any other country in the world. Egypt came second in this ranking, with 25 jailed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The committee also noted that Mexico has emerged as the most dangerous place to be a writer or journalist; in March, four journalists were murdered â€“ 40% of the total number killed worldwide so far this year. The country also has the most missing journalists â€“ 13 out of a global total of 54.