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‘A Brexited flatland: Peter Gabriel hits out after Womad stars refused entry to UK

Festival co-founder urges government to make it easier for international artists to perform in Britain

The musician Peter Gabriel has expressed alarm over UK foreign policy after a number of international artists were unable to perform at Womad world music festival after visa issues.

At least three acts scheduled to appear at the event in Wiltshire last weekend were unable to take part, according to the events director, Chris Smith.

Sabry Mosbah from Tunisia, Wazimbo from Mozambique and members of Nigers Tal National were prevented from entering the UK, Smith said. Indian sisters Hashmat Sultana, who also experienced difficulties entering the country, arrived 24 hours after their scheduled performance.

Gabriel, who co-founded Womad in 1980, said: The right to travel for work, for education and even for pleasure is increasingly being restricted and often along racial and religious lines.

It is alarming that our UK festival would now have real problems bringing artists into this country [many of whom] no longer want to come to the UK because of the difficulty, cost and delays with visas, along with the new fear that they will not be welcomed.

Smith said it was the latest example of the governments hostile environment policy affecting international acts scheduled to perform in the UK.

He said this year marked the first time artists declined invitations to perform at Womad, with many citing the difficulty of entering the country under the automated visa system that first created issues for the festival in 2017.

Whether their perceptions are real or inflamed, the reality is that artists are deciding that the hassle and cost of entering the UK are neither worth the return nor the exposure to rejection that the process might bring, Smith said. For now this is a trickle, but how do we prevent it becoming a flood?

Womad asked Home Office and Foreign Office contacts to intervene in individual cases, which led to some visa cancellations being overturned.

Sometimes this works but not consistently, said Smith. At Womad it is our intention to embark on urgent discussions with our contacts at the Home Office and our partners in the cultural sector to find a way to welcome international artists and ask them to continue their contribution to making the UK a tolerant and forward-thinking focal point of the global cultural community.

BCUC
BCUC perform at Womad. Photograph: C Brandon/Redferns

Gabriel said: There have been, and continue to be, good people within the Foreign Office who try to help us every year, but the warnings are becoming clearer: if we want a country which is open to people with ideas, traditions, food and culture different from our own, we have to change the current visa processes and find ways to turn back the growing anti-foreigner tide.

Musicians travel for a living, and almost everywhere I have travelled I have been met with kindness and generosity. Do we really want a white-breaded Brexited flatland? A country that is losing the will to welcome the world?

Freedom of movement for musicians has come under scrutiny since the EU referendum vote. Last week the House of Lords published a report recommending a touring visa which would improve access to the EU for British performers post-Brexit and vice versa.

Britains Incorporated Society of Musicians also called for freedom of movement to be protected for musicians. A report suggested that more than 40% of ISM members had noticed an impact on their work as a result of the Brexit vote, up from 26% in 2017 and 19% in 2016. More than a third of respondents said they had experienced visa difficulties while travelling outside the EU, and 15% claimed to have lost a job opportunity owing to visa issues.

Smith questioned whether the hostile environment policy reflected the will of the nation. I strongly believe it is not how British people feel, and the 35,000 people who attended the Womad festival last weekend agree.

Britain is a country built on a foundation of diverse cultures; it is a country that respects and is excited by diversity and a country that wants to take its place on the global stage.

Tragically, this is not the message that is being projected beyond our borders and the potential damage to our communities, culture and economy as a consequence of that is, frankly, heartbreaking.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/jul/31/brexited-flatland-peter-gabriel-womad-stars-refused-entry-uk-visa

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