Interview:  Peter Ripken, Chair of Board of The International Cities of Refuge Network

ICORN: The International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) is an independent organisation of cities and regions offering shelter to writers and artists at risk, advancing freedom of expression, defending democratic values and promoting international solidarity; for more information:

Journalists-in-Residence: The programme of ECPMF provides a safe shelter, a scholarship and health insurance to engaged journalists from Europe, who have come under pressure for six to twelve months; for more information:


Please introduce yourself and your organization?

Peter RipkenIn the International City of Refuge Network (ICORN) cities, which have decided to host persecuted authors and artists co-operate for at least one year. When we started in 2006, the network consisted of fewer than 15 cities. Today we are roundabout 50 in Europe − especially in Scandinavia − and America. I have been involved since the middle of the 1990s with the “Programme of Refuge” of the city of Frankfurt am Main and I am one of the founding members of ICORN.


Who do you approach with your programme?

Most of our fellows are writers and we regularly host journalists,   but in some cities also caricaturists and rappers get refuge, for example in Sweden.
What opportunities does the ICORN-programme provide for its fellows?   
The main goal is, that the participant can work free from censorship and pressure, even if it is only for a limited amount of time. Furthermore their work and their situation should become more well- known.


How many applications do you receive and where do the applicants come from?  

In 2015 we have received 70 applications up to August. Currently there are a lot of bloggers from Bangladesh among them, but also journalists from Eritrea and Ethiopia and authors from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. All applications are checked by the Writers-in-Prison Committee of PEN International. In 2015 more than 20 guests have arrived in the cities of refugee up to now.


What are the biggest challenges in organising such a programme?

We have a long waiting list, because there should be more cities, which offer refuge to persecuted authors. And it makes quite a lot of work to check the applications of these writers, journalists and artists. We do not have enough staff at our headquarters at Stavanger in Norway, because we do not have a big enough budget. But journalists are more and more exposed to threats. Therefore all initiatives are welcomed, that organise refuge for journalists.


Tell us about your experience …

Such programmes are not easy to run and the challenges are quite diverse, especially on the personal level. You have to care for people, who are often traumatized and face an uncertain future. Additionally most of them do not know the language of the host country. So there is a lot of organisation necessary, daily business and formal matters: the permission of residency as well as the health care, safe communication and insurances … So we are happy about all new initiatives. A good co-ordination and a co-operation with programmes which are already active in this field and provide refuge is a promising perspective.

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