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Every week, two journalists are killed somewhere in the world – more than 2,600 since 1990, according to figures from the International Federation of Journalists. Today, 350 journalists worldwide are in captivity, 160 of them in Turkey. Hundreds are intimidated, mistreated and even murdered. As a result, some choose to leave everything behind and go into exile.
More than 40 journalists from 16 countries currently live in exile in Belgium: they come from Burundi, Turkey, Somalia, Palestine, Iran, Colombia, Chile, Morocco, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Rwanda, Sudan, Togo and Serbia. Today, Wednesday 23 October, the new association Ensemble: Groupe d’Aide aux Journalistes Exilés (En-GAJE) presented itself in the VUB-ULB weKONEKT.brussels room in Bozar. En-GAJE is a non-profit organisation that will offer shelter and practical help for these journalists, with support from local institutions including VUB.
“Freedom of the press is under threat around the world, and for journalists life is becoming more and more dangerous,” says VUB rector Caroline Pauwels. “The fourth estate is being challenged, even threatened by political, economic, religious and other powers, even in democratic countries. Universities have a clear role in defending freedom of the press, against all these challenges. Because if you don’t defend freedom of the press as a university, then who will defend freedom of research for the university if it is threatened? The Vrije Universiteit Brussel therefore sees it as its task to support journalists who face losing their jobs, being fined, being imprisoned, sometimes even risking their lives. We are therefore very pleased with the establishment of En-GAJE. Brussels, with its history as a haven for critical thinkers and journalists, and as the journalistic capital of Europe, is the perfect location to create a meeting place for journalists who are forced into exile. There is no better place for them to get in touch with colleagues, to testify, to encourage, to work and to recharge their batteries. Thanks to En-GAJE, they are no longer alone here in their struggle.”
To date, only the Maison des Journalistes (House of Journalists), founded in Paris in 2002, provides shelter and support to journalists in exile in Europe. Now En-GAJE offers a meeting place and a place to work at the House of the Journalist, the headquarters of the General Association of Professional Journalists in Belgium and its Dutch- and French-speaking wings. The centre in Brussels offers legal, social and professional support and aims to become an international home for freedom of the press and freedom of expression. En-GAJE will also welcome people who work for freedom of information: whistleblowers, artists, citizens and anyone who works for freedom of speech and is threatened in their own country as a result.
VUB supports freedom of speech and press freedom each year with the Difference Day conference on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. This year, VUB also awarded two honorary doctorates to journalists Rudi Vranckx and Elena Milashina. Professor Ike Picone of the SMIT research group will represent VUB as an effective member of En-GAJE.
The following organisations have made En-GAJE possible: International Federation of Journalists, Association of Professional Journalists, Flemish Association of Journalists, Coordination and Initiatives for Refugees and Foreigners, Ligue des Droits Humains, ULB and VUB, Amnesty International BF and Maison des Journalistes Paris.