Britain uses “Kafkaesque” rules to refuse visas to authors invited to the Edinburgh International Book Festival

There’s a clue in the word “international. The Edinburgh International Book Festival may not be the biggest book event in the world, but it is one of the most respected.

Or rather, it used to be.

But in the insular world of Brexit chaos and intolerance that is today’s Britain it seems the Edinburgh Festival is in the firing line.

Reports The Guardian,

A dozen authors who were planning to attend this year’s Edinburgh international book festival have had their visas refused, according to the director, Nick Barley, who warned that the “humiliating” application process would deter artists from visiting the UK.

The festival kicks off on August 11 and in theory will have invited guest authors and artists from 55 countries.

But it seems if you’re an invited author from Africa or the Middle East your chances of getting a visa or considerably less than if you’re from, say, Australia or New Zealand, or western Europe.

Festival director Barley says the organisers routinely help with visa applications, and publishers and other parties meet the costs of the invited authors’ attendance, including travel to and from the UK, and accommodation while here.

But this year “about a dozen” invitees, from the Middle East, Africa and one from Belarus, have had their applications refused, and many more remain outstanding with just days to go before the festival opens.

Barley explained,

We’ve had to draw on the help of MPs, MSPs, ambassadors and senior people in the British Council and Home Office to overturn visa decisions that looked set to be rejected. We’ve had so many problems with visas, we’ve realised it is systematic.

This hard on the heels of musicians being refused visas for the Womad festival.

Said Womad founder Peter Gabriel,

Do we really want a white-breaded Brexited flatland? A country that is losing the will to welcome the world?

Standard practice for UK visa applicants is to have to provide three years’ worth of bank statements to demonstrate financial independence (even though their costs are being covered), but it seems having money in the bank is not enough. The UK authorities want to know where it came from.

Says Barley,

It is Kafkaesque. One was told he had too much money and it looked suspicious for a short trip. Another was told she didn’t have enough, so she transferred £500 into the account – and then was told that £500 looked suspicious. It shouldn’t be the case that thousands of pounds should be spent to fulfil a legitimate visa request.

It gets worse.

One author had to give his birth certificate, marriage certificate, his daughter’s birth certificate and then go for biometric testing. He wanted to back out at that point because he couldn’t bear it, but we asked him to continue. Our relationship with authors is being damaged because the system is completely unfit for purpose. They’ve jumped through hoops – to have their applications refused.

And the craziness doesn’t end there. As The Guardian notes,

A permit-free festival visitor visa is available to artists appearing at 45 approved cultural events, including Womad and the Edinburgh Fringe, which means they do not require a certificate of sponsorship and only have to show bank balances for three months. However, the book festival is not on the list.

Barley generously says,

I think this is an honest mistake the UK government has made as a result of their immigration policy, which is making problems for artists, musicians and performers.

I suspect Barley is being diplomatic there.

Deidre Brock, a Scottish MP fighting for the authors and artists impacted, summed it up thus

Home Office bureaucrats say performers won’t go home to their friends, families and jobs after the festival, despite no evidence that this has ever been an issue. You have to ask why they think highly acclaimed artists would throw away their careers and leave their family and friends to live as illegal immigrants.

But I’ll end leave the last word to Sam Missingham, who tweeted to the British Prime Minister Theresa May earlier today:

.@theresa_may really is turning us into the small-minded, inward-looking country we’ve always had the potential to be. Not in my fucking name.

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