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Eritrean journalist Milkeas Mihreteab narrowly escaped arrest when his private newspaper office was raided by the authorities six years ago. He crossed local borders on foot before getting passage to the United States, where he was eventually granted asylum. In the U.S., Mihreteab has worked at a coffee shop and as a security guard, but never as a journalist. And with more than a dozen journalists imprisoned in Eritrea, his prospects for going home are grim.

Mihreteab is just one of 243 cases of journalists forced into exile in the past six years because of their work, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Launched on World Refugee Day (20 June), "Journalists in Exile" found that of the 243 journalists, more than half of them came from just five countries: Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Colombia and Uzbekistan. At least three journalists a month flee their home countries to escape threats of violence, prison or harassment, and only one in seven ever returns home.

Most of them flee to North America, Europe and Africa. In Canada - ranked fourth as a major host country in CPJ's survey - two IFEX members support programmes to help writers in exile.

There's Canadian Journalists for Free Expression's (CJFE) Journalists in Exile (JEX) programme, which has welcomed more than 70 journalists from around the world who fled their homelands because they were persecuted for their work. Launched in 2000, JEX serves to give a voice to exiled journalists and to put them in touch with each other as well as the Canadian media industry. CJFE has worked with JEX on a number of initiatives, including language workshops, a profile directory of JEX members and a JEX website - and provides a place for JEX members to meet and share experiences and expertise. CJFE also worked with PEN Canada and other media groups to develop a one-year journalism programme at Sheridan College for international, professionally-trained journalists. The programme's inaugural year is currently underway.

International PEN's Writers in Exile Network, currently chaired by PEN Canada, helps freed writers escape further persecution and find safety. Most PEN centres were already assisting writers in exile with immigration and asylum procedures, health, professional development and security, so they created a network in 1999 to share information and be more efficient. PEN Canada now offers exiled writers short-term university positions to support them financially and give them a toehold in Canada's literary and academic community.

Some journalists who arrive in France find refuge at the Maison des Journalistes, a safehouse in Paris. While it's difficult to get exiled journalists work in the French media - many don't know the language, and the French unions say hiring foreigners takes away jobs from those already in France - the Maison offers them an opportunity to continue their work. According to CPJ's survey, more than two-thirds of journalists currently in exile have been driven out of their jobs.

"The goal is to aid exiled journalists with the difficulties they face when fleeing countries where they are persecuted, adapting to life in France, and integrating into the French society," director and former Radio France producer Philippe Spinau said in the World Association of Newspaper's RAP 21 newsletter. Most of the Maison's journalists are referred by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

The Maison publishes "L'Oeil de l'exilé", a weekly online journal that showcases their articles. Journalists receive a daily meal ticket, a public transportation pass and calling cards, as well as a room in the house, located in a former factory. They can also take French classes and go on "cultural" excursions. The Maison takes in 15 journalists at a time for up to six months, usually when a journalist first lands and needs help applying for asylum. Since its launch on World Press Freedom Day (3 May) in 2002, the Maison has housed 119 journalists from 40 different countries.

Other similar projects are underway in Berlin, Germany and Cadiz, Spain. The Exiled Journalists Network in the UK, the only media group run by and for exiled journalists, has just received unanimous backing from the National Union of Journalists to create a safehouse in London, UK.

In Africa, where porous borders and harsh press freedom conditions contribute to a steady exodus of journalists - 60 percent, according to CPJ - the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) offers a protection and internship programme for up to six months - within the continent - for journalists at risk. Using its extensive partnerships across the region, the network gives journalists temporary asylum and resettlement in safer countries, even providing them with one-time relief funds.

CPJ's report "Journalists in Exile" includes a statistical analysis, an audio report from a Colombian refugee and a multimedia slideshow. See:

Visit these resources:
- CJFE's JEX directory (Canada):
- PEN's Writers in Exile Network (Canada):
- Maison des Journalistes (France):
- Exiled Journalists Network (UK):
- IFEX resource page on emergency funds:
Also visit these links:
- RAP 21 story on Maison des Journalistes:
- Video of exiled Colombian journalist Jenny Manrique:
(Image: "Journalist in exile", courtesy of Nikahang Kowsar, freelancer, radio producer and also JEX member)

(26 June 2007)

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