Joy for Iranian artist as Edinburgh Festival visa ban is overturned

Iranian illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi was turned down for a visa to attend the Edinburgh Festival earlier this month.
Iranian illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi was turned down for a visa to attend the Edinburgh Festival earlier this month.
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An Iranian illustrator denied a visa to appear at the Edinburgh Festival will be able to take part after the decision was overturned.

Ehsan Abdollahi was forced to pull out of several events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival after being barred from entering the UK.

But the rejection of his visa by the British embassy in Dubai has been over-turned following an outcry on social media, protests by his publisher and organisers of the festival, and lobbying by the Scottish and UK governments.

Abdollahi said he was “lost for the words” by the Home Office u-turn, adding: “I experienced the solidarity and kindness of people who gave their support.”

Book festival director Nick Barley had warned that British culture would be damaged if event organisers were unable to bring international authors into the country. He had described Abdollahi, 37, a lecturer at the Tehran University of Art, as “a highly respected, award-winning Iranian illustrator of kids’ books.”

Abdollahi secured funding to cover the costs of his visit, but was told he had not shown he would be able support himself during his visit, or had shown “sufficient incentive” to return to Iran after the festival.

Delaram Ghanimifard, co-founder of Abdollahi’s publisher Tiny Owl, said: “We’re delighted that the embassy has overturned their decision to grant Ehsan Abdollahi’s visa.

“This is a real testament to the support Ehsan has received over the last week. We hope that for us, and for other publishers, this will set a precedent for artists wanting to come to the UK in the future.

“Stories help us understand different cultures and people as well as find our own similarities with them. Through meeting the artists that create these stories, children’s own literary and imaginative landscape grows and a greater understanding between cultures is developed.”

Mr Barley said: “I am absolutely thrilled for Ehsan Abdollahi and for all the people who will now be able to meet him in Edinburgh. But more fundamentally I’m relieved an artist has been granted permission to travel to the UK from Iran and talk about his work at the festival. Now, more than ever, we need to hear people like Ehsan talking about their ideas.”

Edinburgh MP Deidre Brock, who was among those to campaign for a rethink, called for a “root and branch review” of the visa system in the wake of the case.

She said: “People should not have to go through this kind of stressful process just to take part in our international festivals. The support for this campaign was heartwarming and the result sends a message that Edinburgh continues to welcome the world in August.”