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Surrey becomes Canada’s first International City of Refuge

October 17, 2016

For immediate release: October 17, 2016

The City of Surrey has become Canada’s first International City of Refuge to offer temporary sanctuary to persecuted writers and artists. Surrey joins 60 cities, which include Paris, Oslo and Mexico City that have committed to the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) protecting writers and artists who are in peril in their own countries because of their professional activities.

“I am proud that we have been designated as Canada’s first City of Refuge for writers and artists who are persecuted, imprisoned or worse for expressing their thoughts or creative ideas,” said Mayor Linda Hepner. “Surrey has a long history of being an open and inclusive community. As we have opened our doors to Syrian refugees, this is another example of our City’s progressive approach to offering a safe haven to those fleeing oppression and persecution.”

Together with partners Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Simon Fraser University, the Surrey Public Library and PEN Canada, Surrey will provide a “safe haven” for a writer-at-risk, giving them a respite from danger, fear and persecution, and a platform to continue their work.

Details of the project were formally announced during Surrey’s Creative City Summit, project coordinator Liz Hughes says the official designation means Surrey will welcome a writer-at-risk to live in the city for two years.

Working with Norway-based ICORN, which qualifies the applications from writers-at-risk, a candidate will be chosen to settle in Surrey. A fundraising campaign is being established to support the writer and the writer’s family, as they become part of the city’s culturally vibrant community.


Judy Villeneuve, Surrey City Councillor
 “In so many ways, Surrey already is a place of refuge to the thousands of immigrants and refugees who have been welcomed here. As a City of Refuge, it fits with the goals of the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) to strengthen the integration of newcomers and build a more inclusive and welcoming city.” 

Helge Lunde, Executive Director, ICORN
 “More than 100 applications from persecuted writers and artists reach our ICORN office each year. This high number reflects the sad fact that the conditions for those who dare to give voice to ideas and debate, those who challenge existing societal norms and concepts, has in no way improved in the world today.

We are therefore delighted to have the first Canadian city, the city of Surrey, joining our network to host writers and artists at risk, and take concrete action to protect and promote human rights and freedom of expression. With such strong partners involved, we feel assured that the program will run smoothly and become a model for future ICORN cities of refuge in Canada.

Anne Giardini, Chancellor of Simon Fraser University, author and former member of the PEN Canada Board of Directors
 “Surrey is a dynamic, growing community committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive city for all residents. As the latest city to join the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), Surrey joins cities and regions around the world in offering shelter to writers and artists at risk, advancing freedom of expression, defending democratic values and promoting international solidarity.”

“In many countries, writers and artists are subject to censorship, harassment, imprisonment, bodily harm and death because of what they say and write. As an ICORN member Surrey will offer long term, temporary shelter to those at risk as a direct consequence of their creative activities.”

Steve Dooley, Executive Director, SFU’s Surrey campus
“SFU’s Surrey campus is thrilled to partner with the City of Surrey and KPU to help designate Surrey as Canada’s first City of Refuge. Having worked closely with the city on refugee issues, I feel strongly that the writer will be a beacon of hope for the many refugees who call Surrey home. Together, we are working to open doors that might have otherwise been closed on these important literary voices.”

“There will be great opportunities to link the writer with students, faculty and staff at both SFU and KPU. This initiative also shows our students that we recognize and value literary excellence, no matter what the underlying struggle.”

Dr. Diane Purvey, Dean of Arts, KPU
“Whether driven out into the wider world by famine, conflict, or environmental disaster, people from every quarter of the world have long found refuge in Surrey. It is one of the nation's most cosmopolitan and complex cities, rapidly growing in part because it presents to the world a welcome mat.”

“Now it will also offer refuge and freedom to creators - writers and artists - whose voices place them in harm's way. Membership in the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) puts Surrey in an outstanding global constellation of great cities. Kwantlen Polytechnic University is pleased and privileged to partner in these efforts to promote and defend freedom of speech, critical thought and creativity.”

Aislinn Hunter, award-winning writer, KPU faculty in Creative Writing and PEN Canada member
“As a Canadian writer I have never had to worry that something I’ve said or written might cause me to lose either my liberty or my life. I do not take this freedom or this country’s democracy for granted.”

“By banding together institutions of higher learning, the City proper, and member of the community and their resources Surrey is demonstrating to the world that we value the voices of the oppressed and silenced and that freedom of speech and the right to artistic expression is every individual’s right – in both peaceful and troubled times.”

Randy Boyagoda, President, PEN Canada
“PEN Canada celebrates literature, aids writers in peril, and defends freedom of expression. In light of our mission, and thanks to the generous and timely efforts of our partners in Surrey, BC and at ICORN, we are so very excited and grateful to mark the creation of Canada’s first city of refuge for a writer and for that writer’s family. Lives will be changed and new stories told.”



Media inquiries:

Oliver Lum
Communications Manager
Office of the Mayor
City of Surrey

Marianne Meadahl
Assistant Director External
University Communications
Simon Fraser University