14/07/2009: Insurmountable Obstacles Makes it Difficult for Visiting Artists to Enter UK

Two poets from Morocco, Hassan Najmi and Ouidad (Widad) Benmoussa, were invited to take part in Banipal's July events in the UK at the well-known annual Ledbury Poetry Festival and at the London Review Bookshop. However, the official invitations were ignored utterly, it seems, by the new outsourced and privately-run visa system.

Hassan Najmi is one of Morocco's best known literary figures, having devoted most of his adult life to either writing, reading, promoting, publishing or performing Arabic literature. In addition to his own poetic works, he was for many years arts editor of Al-Ittihad al-Ishtiraki newspaper, was President of the Moroccan Union of Writers 1998-2005, and is now Director-General of the Book and Publications Department of the Moroccan Ministry of Culture. But neither the official invitation nor Hassan's known reputation and standing in Morocco as an official of the Moroccan government is of any account in the new system.

The new system treats everyone applying for a visa as if they are completely unknown and likely to commit acts of terrorism. What use is an official invitation by a well-known literary organisation to a well-known literary figure to perform in the UK, if it is utterly ignored, and the author applying for a visa treated as if they are a potential terrorist!

The humiliating obstacles and treatment by the new system meant the UK readings were impossible for both Hassan Najmi and Ouidad (Widad) Benmoussa. Both were given appointment times which made their visits out of the question, in addition to their having to produce more and more documents.

To add to this, the questions on the VISA application, which the artists had to answer, included: "Have you ever participated in or supported any terrorist crime in any country?" and "During peace or war have you been implicated in war crimes or crimes against humanity or holocaust?"

Such regulations and obstacles only gravely threaten cross-cultural relations and cause great damage to the cultural fabric of the UK.

It is ironic that both Banipal's editor/publisher and the deputy editor, Margaret Obank and Samuel Shimon, are invited to take part in the Assilah Festival in Morocco in August, and they will be attending, no visas required.

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For more information read
Stopping Culture at Our Borders
(Guardian article by Henry Porter)
Our Border Controls are Firm but Fair
(Minister of Immigration Phil Woolas responds)
Manifesto Club
Art Beat
(Guardian article by Vanessa Thorpe)
The IoS Diary
(Independent article by Matthew Bell)

Published Date - 14/07/2009