Ljubljana offering refuge to Syrian writer Souzan Ali

Ljubljana – Syrian author and refugee Souzan Ali has been living in Ljubljana since last summer after she sought refuge in Slovenia’s capital under the UNESCO City of Literature programme and the ICORN network of cities helping persecuted writers and other artists. Ali is on a writing residency at the Slovenian Pen Centre.

On Monday, a day before International Women’s Day, Tanja Tuma, the head of the Slovenian Pen, presented Ali’s work. Ali, born in 1984, embarked on a writing career ten years ago, and her work has been published in prominent Arabic literary journals and newspapers.

Her well-received poetry debut The Woman in My Mouth was published in Italy, and her second poetry collection I Want to Kill You in a Place that Loves Us was published in Egypt.

She is also a playwright, having written an award-winning monodrama titled Arabic Kohl which follows a Syrian woman who lost her family in an explosion.

Ali received the two-year writing residency in Ljubljana in cooperation with the Slovenian Pen Centre, which is participating in the project of offering refuge to persecuted artists. She would like to stage her new play Let Me See My Death in the capital.

The writer has earned acclaim in Syria for her work and is known elsewhere too, said Algerian writer Said Khatibi, who has been living in Slovenia for several years.

Her works have been translated into German, Flemish, French, Kurdish and English, among other languages. Khatibi described her as one of the distinctive voices of her generation known for her desire to bring something new to Arabic literature.

Ali said she was one of the last writers to leave Syria as a vast majority of writers who have been defending human rights had done that already before her.

Cultural life in Syria is under the control of the regime, she said, adding she had become a persona non grata after a newspaper for which she had worked as a journalist was closed down. All in all, women in Syria are worse off than men, she noted.

It was difficult to arrive in Ljubljana since the world is not welcoming to Syrians, Ali said. She had to buy a visa to arrive in Egypt, the only city in the Arab world where Slovenia has an embassy, added ICORN official Jasmina Rihar.

Ljubljana has so far welcomed six refugees in cooperation with the network, which includes 75 cities, mostly in Europe. Some get a work permit and stay, others leave for other countries.