Ali Abukhattab and Samah al-Sheikh, two Palestinian writers based in Gaza, have just recently been refused visas to travel to the UK. These two writers had been invited to speak at a contemporary Arab art festival in London. However, it now appears that they will not be able to attend at all.
These two writers were scheduled to speak at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Festival in London on June 28. This has caused confusion and disappointment for the festival organizers who were looking forward to listening to these two writers, who are husband and wife.
The chairman of this festival, Omar al-Qattan, said that they received two reasons as to why the visa was refused. First, they did not qualify as having business reasons to visit the UK. Second, officials were not satisfied that the couple would be returning to Gaza after the festival. Obviously these writers were coming for work reasons, as they were speaking at a festival.
Omar went on to say that the reasons given by the UK government are completely ridiculous. The two writers who have been rejected from coming to the country are not only disappointed but completely humiliated. This would have been their very first time seeing the UK. People are confused because London is known around the world as an open city. It is supposed to welcome people from all over. This goes double for artists like the ones who were just rejected.
That being said, Oattan added that they have not given up just yet. However, he did say that it was too late to fight the government on this one. Thus, they are exploring other ways the writers might be able to talk to festivalgoers. For example, they might be able to find a way to get the writers to talk to festivalgoers via Skype.
This festival starts on June 22 and lasts for 15 days. Here people see and talk about concerts, theater, visual art shows and have debates. Some of these debates take place at the British Museum and Tate Modern. The goal of the festival is to help people in the UK get a fresh perspective on art from other countries. This goes double for countries that are usually in the news for the wrong reasons. In these countries, art gets overlooked.
Oattan finished up by saying that he does not think there is a enough exchange of art throughout the world. There are a lot of different things going on around the world, and great things like art get pushed aside. That being said, people come from all over to attend this festival, so there is a calling for it.
This festival was first introduced in 2011. It was a big hit, and that is why they are holding the festival again this year. That being said, they are not sure if the festival will continue to be held bi-annually or not. It really depends on the turnout this year.
The Home Office is not giving any more reasons as to why these visas were denied. In fact, a spokesman for the Home Office said that it was their policy not to comment on any individual visa cases.