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.
Due to the nature of their work, writers, artists, and journalists are especially vulnerable to censorship, harassment, imprisonment and even death. Through representing the liberating gift of the human imagination, they give voice to thoughts, ideas, debate, and critique whilst disseminating it to a wide audience. Writers, artists, and journalists also tend to be the first to speak out and resist when freedom of speech is threatened.
ICORN Member Cities offer long-term, but temporary, shelter to those put at risk as a direct consequence of their creative activities. Our aim is to host as many persecuted writers, artists, and journalists in ICORN cities as possible, and together with our sister networks and organisations, to form a dynamic and sustainable global network for freedom of expression.
Protecting and promoting writers and artists at risk
Since 2006, more than 70 cities worldwide have joined ICORN, giving shelter to no less than 200 writers, artists, and journalists. These cities’ commitment is both very concrete and deeply symbolic: the agent for change, whether a writer, artist or a journalist, escapes from imminent threat and persecution; the Member City offers sanctuary, meaning that the values of hospitality, solidarity, and freedom of expression become further enshrined in its ethos.
ICORN protects and promotes an increasingly wide range of creatives and human rights defenders, including but not limited to bloggers, novelists, playwrights, journalists, musicians, poets, non-fiction writers, visual artists, cartoonists, singer-songwriters, translators, screenwriters, and publishers. ICORN enables them to continue to express themselves freely in a place where they are safe, but not silent. Using digital and social media to reach audiences to whom they were previously denied access whilst benefitting from local and ICORN networks, their voices can be heard by new audiences in their host cities and beyond.
Find more information and a complete list of current ICORN Cities of Refuge.
The origins of ICORN
The original Cities of Asylum Network (INCA) was founded by the International Parliament of Writers (IPW) in 1993 as a response to the assassination of writers in Algeria and with the idea to create a network of cities to shelter threatened writers. It was presided over by Salman Rushdie, Wole Soynika and Vaclav Havel and council members included JM Coetzee, Jaques Derrida, Margaret Drabble and Harold Pinter.
The scheme was first embraced by Barcelona and quickly followed by many other cities, including in the United States and Mexico. Whilst the IPW and INCA were dissolved in 2005, the idea and will were left intact.
Questions, however, remained for all the cities and organisations involved: does the collapse of the IPW mean that work of this kind is in vain? Or should we join forces, learn from past failures and successes, and start anew?
The latter option was chosen and the ICORN Secretariat was established at the Stavanger Cultural Centre, Sølvberget in June 2006 in Stavanger, Norway. In 2010, ICORN became an independent membership organisation and in 2014, the ICORN General Assembly voted to expand the scope of residencies beyond writers to include artists and musicians.
ICORN is both decentralised and coordinated. The Secretariat in Stavanger, Norway, serves as the communication hub for the independently managed ICORN Member Cities.
The International Board consists of Member City representatives, elected by the General Assembly every two years.
The ICORN Board
Elected by Member Cities and consists of representatives from six cities from different nationalities across the network, representing and advocating the aims of ICORN. A representative of PEN International and Sølvberget Cultural Centre may attend ICORN Board meetings with the right to speak and suggest agenda items. Likewise, a representative of the ICORN residents who are or have been a guest in an ICORN City of Refuge may also attend ICORN Board meetings with the right to speak and suggest agenda items.
Find out more about the present ICORN Board, elected in 2021.
The ICORN Secretariat
Handles the day-to-day running of the organisation, including receiving and screening applications from potential residents through authenticating their work and verifying the persecution and danger they are exposed to. The ICORN Secretariat also establishes contact between applicants and the ICORN Cities of Refuge and advises both parties throughout the whole process. Additionally, the Secretariat facilitates contact and cooperation between ICORN Cities of Refuge, City Coordinators, promotional arenas and ICORN residents. It continuously strives to recruit more cities and expand the network of organisations which can through the various stages of an application.
Find out more about the ICORN Secretariat and get in touch.
Partners and Supporters
ICORN is a dynamic, flexible, and collaborative organisation, working with a growing range of networks and institutions at local, national, and international levels and connecting ICORN Member Cities and ICORN residents with a global network of solidarity and creativity.
At the core of its identity, ICORN is both a cultural and a human rights and freedom of expression organisation. Culturally, ICORN interacts with local and national initiatives, such as arts councils, as well as international arts and literature festivals and networks. In the field of human rights, we heavily depend on Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
We interact closely with other organisations active in both sectors, including PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, Scholars at Risk, Freemuse, Frontline Defenders, Free Dimensional and many more.
Since 2010, ICORN has been involved with relevant European Parliament and European Commission projects as well as with the EU’s initiative to set up a global system of shelter for human rights defenders.
ICORN continues to develop relationships with existing and new partners and supporters to increase capacity and its ability to protect and promote more writers, artists, and journalists at risk.
Find out more about ICORN’s partners and supporters
Neither ICORN nor its individual cities have authority over the laws and regulations of any country. Therefore, the Administration Centre strongly discourages any applicants and candidates from relying on ICORN as their only option for refuge.