Dezeen Magazine

The 2023 UIA World Congress of Architects in Copenhagen

Global South delegates blocked from attending UIA World Congress of Architects

Delegates from the Global South were denied visas to attend Copenhagen's UIA World Congress of Architects this summer by the Danish government, despite the event's stated goal being "leave no one behind".

Kabage Karanja, co-founder of Kenyan architecture studio Cave Bureau, told Dezeen that one of the team members behind its Louisiana exhibition shown at the congress had their visa application "unjustifiably rejected".

Despite Karanja speaking at the July event, his wife, mother and sister were also denied visas, he said.

"Very clear discrimination"

"Over the past year my family has travelled to Canada, the US, and other parts of the world without any of them ever having their visas denied, so without doubt there is very clear discrimination going on in Denmark," said Karanja.

In another case, a participant from Pakistan was told her visa was rejected because the Danish government considers people from the country to be an illegal immigration risk.

An executive order from the Danish government "on Aliens' Access to Denmark on the Basis of a Visa" includes Pakistan in a small group of countries whose citizens are deemed "as posing a particularly high risk of immigration into Denmark or other Schengen countries".

Karachi-based architect and WM Creative Studio researcher Ilsa Ahmed was invited to the congress to present her work on building women's shelters.

"While I understand that every country has the right to ensure protective laws against illegal immigrants, I was still surprised that even though the documents attached to the application were complete and legitimate, I was still refused entry based on the most vague reason," Ahmed told Dezeen.

She claimed that the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs initially refused to reconsider despite a request from the UIA congress organisers – but that on their insistence, the decision was eventually overturned and she was able to present her research in Copenhagen.

"But many others were not able to make it due to the Danish visa policies," added Ahmed.

"It is a shame, because this could have been a career-changing opportunity for many individuals much like myself."

Dezeen understands there were other cases of delegates experiencing visa issues.

A source close to the organisation of the congress claimed some people who had been invited to make presentations at the congress were forced to do so online after being denied entry to Denmark.

Latest example of visa denials

It is the latest example of architects from the Global South being prevented from attending landmark architecture events, after similar issues at the Venice Architecture Biennale in May.

"We were sorry to learn that some participants could not get a visa for travelling to Copenhagen," said UIA World Congress Copenhagen 2023 chief executive Mette Lindberg.

"Despite these unfortunate cases we had a successful international event with participants from 135 countries which created a dynamic, diverse and inspiring atmosphere."

Dezeen contacted the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment but did not receive a response.

The photo is courtesy of UIA World Congress of Architects.