July 21, 2017

Illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi is denied a visa by the UK’s Home Office in advance of the Edinburgh International Book Festival


Ehsan Abdollahi. Via Tiny Owl.

Ehsan Abdollahi, illustrator of When I Coloured In the World by Ahmadreza Ahmadi and A Bottle of Happiness by Pippa Goodhart (both published in the UK by Tiny Owl) and citizen of Iran, has been denied an entry visa by the UK’s Home Office.

Abdollahi had applied for the visa in order to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival. According to a statement released by Tiny Owl, funds had been raised which would cover the entirety of the visit and return. Nonetheless, per reporting by Heloise Wood at the Bookseller, Abdollahi’s application was rejected because “his financial documents ‘did not demonstrate’ the wage he claimed to earn.” Wood was quoting a letter sent to Abdollahi by the Home Office, in which UK officials said they “doubt the credibility of the application.”

Please, stuffy bureaucrat, go on:

Without evidence of the origin of this money, I am not satisfied that it is genuinely yours and available to fund the proposed visit. I note the documents you have provided do not satisfactorily demonstrate the current whereabouts or personal circumstances of any immediate family members remaining in Iran. Given this, I am not satisfied you have shown that your ties to Iran are sufficient incentive to leave the UK at the end of your proposed visit.

Holy shit. The British Home Office is denying Abdollahi a travel visa because they, implicitly, doubt such a person could possibly have that much money, and accuse him, indirectly, of planning to linger beyond his welcome.

How very imperial.

Ra Page, founder and publisher of Comma Press, told Wood that this kind of harassment is a continual struggle for UK publishers trying to bring writers and artists from the Arabic world into the country:

“We’ve had to cancel or reconfiger a dozen or more previous events where writers have failed in their visa applications. In autumn 2014, for example, and again in 2015, award-winning writers like Nayrouz Qarmout and Mona Abu Sharekh were prevented from coming to UK, to read from The Book of Gaza, thanks to bureaucratic traps sprung by the visa application process. The forms are full of Kafka-esque potholes… In fact, the first time we invited the award-winning author Hassan Blasim to the UK, in 2009, his visa application was rejected because the letter of invitation was signed in black ink. The British embassy in Helsinki said his letter of invitation (from Comma and the festivals involved) were all photocopies. They weren’t, but because they were signed in black ink, the embassy had grounds to claim they were photocopies.”

This is bullshit, of course, but it’s highly predictable bullshit, coming as it does from a country whose political establishment still cannot figure out why Tony Fucking Blair is so unpopular. (Hint: this is why.)

In any event, Abdollahi has been denied the right of appeal, and Tiny Owl promise to seek recourse through their local PM. While it seems unlikely that any progress will be made in time for the Edinburgh festival, sufficient pressure may make it easier for publishers like Comma and Tiny Owl to bring voices like Abdollahi, Blasim, and Qarmout to an international audience. We wish them the best of luck.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.