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Ehsan Abdollahi’s self-portrait with his declined application

Our illustrator’s visa refusal has prompted a huge outcry. We announced last Thursday that Ehsan Abdollahi, illustrator of When I Coloured In the World and A Bottle of Happiness, had been denied a visa for his planned visit to the UK for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Since then, we’ve received an outpouring of support for him and protests at the decision, not just in the UK but from all over the world. From articles in the media and comments from authors and illustrators to messages and purchases by members of the public, it has been so encouraging to see how many people believe this decision was unfair and unnecessary.

Many newspapers and industry journals ran the story, chiefly the Guardian and The Bookseller. Others included iNews, the Herald, the National, North Edinburgh News, the New Indian Express, CanIndia, the publisher Melville House, and Livres Hebdo.

Delaram Ghanimifard, publisher at Tiny Owl, was interviewed by the Guardian and The Bookseller. She said, ‘[We] hope the unofficial visa ban for artists and authors stops. We need cultural dialog and understanding. We need cultural bridges.’

Illustrators Jackie Morris and James Mayhew, and author Anna McQuinn, all pledged to start their events at Edinburgh International Book Festival with a reading of Ehsan’s books.

The festival’s organisers, and especially its director Nick Barley, also gave the refusal a great deal of coverage on Twitter.

Lorian Tu-Dean’s illustration of Ehsan Abdollahi

The refusal also inspired lots of creative responses: a blog post by Pippa Goodhart, author of A Bottle of Happiness; another blog post by Karen Sands-O’Connor; a video by Robert J. Somynne about Iranian visas and cultural exchange; and a gorgeous piece of artwork by Lorian Tu-Dean depicting children offering bottles of happiness to Ehsan while he was silenced by a robot.

Beverley Naidoo, author of many children’s books including an upcoming title for Tiny Owl, wrote an open letter to the Guardian criticising the decision and the implications it has for cultural exchange in the arts.

Many people, including authors Pippa Goodhart and Vivian French, wrote to their MPs, with the result that Deidre Brock and several other Members of Scottish Parliament got in touch with the Foreign Office. Countless others expressed their support and outrage on Twitter using our hashtag #visaforAbdollahi, and announced that they had bought Ehsan’s books or borrowed them from libraries.

Finally, Ehsan himself created a touching illustration of his reaction to the refusal, inspired by the works he has illustrated for Tiny Owl. He also told us that the overwhelming support he has received means more to him than the visa itself.

This is the third consecutive year that a Tiny Owl artist has been refused a visa. The reasons given are always petty technicalities; this year one reason given to Ehsan was that he had no dependents to give him reason to return to Iran; yet when Marjan Vafaian’s visa was refused last year, it was despite the fact that her husband lived in Iran.

  • Read this Blog: Tiny Owl illustrator was refused entry. Why?!
  • Read Pippa Goodhart’s blog: Let’s not build a wall around ourselves


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Posted in Blog