Denied visas urge perseverance

Published on 19 May 2022

What is a visa? How many countries can you travel to without a visa? How much do you have to worry about visas? For some participants present at the Bibu / ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering 2022 – a lot.

A number of participants were denied visas to Sweden. This issue was promptly addressed at the festival’s opening ceremony by the Chairperson of the Board of Bibu Festival who expressed the intention to bring the matter into a discussion with relevant Swedish authorities.

Addressing international guests present at the ceremony, Måns Lagerlöf, Chairperson of the Board of Bibu Festival said: “We recognise the problems that you and some of your colleagues have had regarding obtaining visas to enter Sweden… We are sad to realise that some of your friends and associates are not present during the festival which affects our performances, seminars and meetings.

“This is also a matter of what do we do if we get invited to another international event in Sweden or anywhere where a Schengen visa is required in the future”

Vincent Meyburgh, Jungle Theatre Company

He went on to say that this is partially a completely ‘new situation’ that the organisers have not faced in the past. “We see it as a hindrance, in general, for international cooperation between Sweden and foreign countries and we intend to bring this to a discussion with relevant Swedish authorities, agencies and funding bodies after this festival.”

On the whole, participants who haven’t been granted entry come from Pakistan, Iran, Gulf countries and African countries to name a few. It is not only a matter of one rejection but also of this rejected visa being on their record for future visa applications.

Making the most of it

For Aamir Nawaz, artistic director of Maas Foundation, a theatre company based in Lahore, Pakistan and Chairperson of the ASSITEJ Next Generation Network who has a scheduled session at the festival today, this is the first time he has been denied entry to Schengen area.

Speaking to him through an online interview, Aamir explained that “I have visited many countries, but this time it was really unfortunate. It seems that Swedish embassies are not issuing visas to these delegations.” Indeed, he is not the only one from his country that was denied a visa. “My colleague, the President of ASSITEJ Pakistan and a member of the ASSITEJ International Executive Committee, was also denied entry.”

Speaking to Aamir just before his session, which has been converted to a hybrid session thanks to this ASSITEJOnline, he was thankful to be able to attend the full online programme of the festival, pinpointing yesterday, the opening day of the festival as an emotional one. “Fortunately, I have access online so I can see whatever is online, that’s a positive thing. Yesterday, I felt a little emotional, you know your missing out on something but I’m confident we will have a good session with my colleagues and will be able to see other things online,” said Aamir.

The session Aamir was meant to lead but will take a back seat to due to his absence, entitled ‘Next Generation: A way to move forward,’ talks about the activities of the Next Generation Network. “This year we’re presenting three success stories so that we can help other centres to create Next Generation Residencies at their centres; it’s a motivational session for other centres,” explains Aamir.

Divide and conquer

On the other hand, the Jungle Theatre Company based in South Africa had four out of six of its performers denied entry visas. The theatre group has had to adapt and replace its four scheduled performances at the festival into something feasible for the now two-member crew that made it to Helsingborg.

Just after having attended a workshop based on the theatre Group’s performance entitled ‘Mantis and the Bee’ which was delivered to local school children, Artistic Director, Vincent Meyburgh and performing artist Noxolo Magadla expressed their concern about the future.

“This is also a matter of what do we do if we get invited to another international event in Sweden or anywhere where a Schengen visa is required in the future,” said Vincent. “How do we know that this is not going to happen again?” he continued.

Regardless, both of them are making the most of their time here, and are so far enjoying the feedback they are attaining from their workshop. “I’m not disappointed,” says Noxolo, “I’m very happy that at least people are commenting on what we are showing here, they love what we do, even if we didn’t do the performance in full,” she adds. “And I feel good that I also represent the others that are not here with us, I’m here for them.”

As for the presentation they have put together to replace their show later this week, Vincent explains that “in the presentation, we talk about the work that we’re doing in South Africa, we have quite a few quotes from the artists that are not here and what their experience is working with Jungle Theatre, we talk about the methodology of how we work, what it’s like working in South Africa, why we’re doing what we are doing in South Africa, how we create work… I imagine this is interesting for other artists and producers to see.”


The resilience of both the artists and artistic directors, along with the readily available technology to play with hybrid events and presentations is certain; as is the perseverance of organisers to be flexible in adapting to circumstances.

“We have had to change a few things because being the chairperson of the Next Generation Network, I was supposed to lead the session, but as I’m not attending in person, one of my colleagues will lead, we had to figure out everything in our technical rehearsal yesterday,” explains Aamir.

“Fortunately, I have access online so I can see whatever is online, that’s a positive thing”

Aamir Nawar, artistic director of Maas Foundation and Chairperson of the ASSITEJ Next Generation Network

“It’s really wonderful that ASSITEJOnline is so cooperative,” he adds. “I only told them that we had to change all the setup a week ago and they replied with a very positive response and converted it to a hybrid form.”

Vincent and his group have decided to make use of the cancellation reimbursement and give it back to the performing arts and more specifically children and young people. “With the money that the theatre company is getting back from the cancellation fee of the flight tickets, we can now go and perform Mantis and the Bee in South Africa, pay the artists and perform for the children there. Jungle Theatre is also currently fundraising to assist them in reaching out to more beneficiaries. See fundraising video here.

Melissa Hekkers is a freelance journalist and author.
Her most recent book, Amir’s Blue Elephant, is a creative non-fiction based on her experiences working with refugees, in Lesvos, Greece. In 2018, she launched My Cyprus Mandala, an interactive educational book series on the natural and cultural heritage of Cyprus. In 2007, she published her first children’s book ‘Crocodile’, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. Her second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (2012) was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. Her third children’s book ‘Pupa’ (2014) was adapted as a theatre play in 2019.