Pen To Print

Click "Enter" to submit the form.

Write On! Interviews: Exiled Writers Ink Rouhi Shafii

Farzana Hakim from Write On! interviews Exiled Writer Ink Rouhi Shafii

Voices That Echo

Last year I met with Exiled Writers Ink Chair, Rouhi Shafii, via Zoom.

As a third-generation daughter of a family belonging to the British Pakistani diaspora, I was able to relate to many of the stories and experiences she shared. However, the pain and suffering Rouhi has come across in her work as a translator and activist, as well as with Exiled Writers Ink, made me catch my breath in horror.

Rouhi’s journey and her knowledge about the people of the world we often ignore and who remain unseen, left a lasting impression. In fact, to such an extent that, as I’m writing this up a couple of weeks later, those echoing voices have inspired me to become a member of Exiled Writers Ink.

What Is Exiled Writers Ink?

The organisation was founded in 2000 to give a platform and a helping hand into the literary world to refugees and those fleeing from repressive regimes and war-torn countries. The programme hosts regular workshops and events around the UK, promoting free speech and literary activism while creating safe spaces to write, perform and share ideas and projects.

Crossing Borders

Rouhi came to the UK to escape from the Iran Iraq war. Although through her work she’d been to the UK before, her decision to move here was primarily because of her children.

“Iran was dangerous for them, especially my son. Young people were being used as mules to find routes across the minefields. But home was always home. I never lost my relationship with Iran and have continued to fight the present Islamic regime in Iran.”

“When I came here 40 years ago, there were 17 million refugees around the world. Now there are around 100 million. Though some migrate for economic reasons, many are writers; people of some importance in their own country. They need a space created for them here and we try to do this though Exiled Writers Ink.”

Our members come from the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. Unfortunately, we don’t have many from Africa, despite there being many who need the space we can provide. We are also currently reaching out to Afghan refugees.”

In The Fight For Social Justice

“Writing in any language and genre is in the service of knowledge. At Exiled Writers Ink we’re trying to use this to relay our own. These days, the internet has made our world much smaller, making it easier to understand what’s going on. Very different to the days of the Rwandan genocide, for example.”

We discuss how information spreads, our digital era allowing the voices of the oppressed to echo and therefore reach audiences all over the world. However, Rouhi also flags up the negative ripple effects engendered and how the media can inflame public opinion with its generalisations around refugees; demonising all who come into the country with the same definitions.

Rouhi’s other organisation, Stop Honour Killings, was set up after the murder of 14-year-old Romina by her own father in Iran. With a focus on Iran, it aims to spotlight the atrocities taking place there.

“There have been so many stories in the three years we’ve been doing this. Everyone is complicit, with families covering up. Women are representative of male honour in this paradigm. This needs to change!”

Telling Rouhi I wear my headscarf by choice and not by force, she’s quick to tell me that, though she respects my choice, the hijab is one of the biggest fights in Iran at the moment.

“For the Iranian regime, the hijab is a flag. If this flag comes down, it will be shown up as the corrupt dictatorship it is.”

Echoes Of Home

In Rouhi’s autobiography, Scent Of Saffron, her connection to her cultural heritage is strongly evident.

“There’s always this theme of home and here. Whatever I write goes back to that. All these years on, I can still smell the spices and hear the sounds of the copper makers banging in the bazaar. As an exile, you are always caught in a place between what is now and your imagination.”

In reality, though, Rouhi, like many other members of Exiled Writers Ink, wouldn’t want to go back.

“Half of my life has been lived here. Time changes places and people and I don’t really want to see what’s happened to the country I left.

We’re longing for – and forever trying to create – a hybrid world made from reality and memory. With voices, cultures and languages travelling back and forth like the people, our world is becoming ever more integrated and entwined. This is fertile ground for our society to draw from and should be seen as a positive for all of us.”

Get Involved

Membership costs £20 per year and you can join through

Connect with Exiled Writers Ink on X: @ExiledInk, Facebook: @ExiledWriters and Instagram: @exiledwritersinkewi

A Story Which Echoes:

In Scent Of Saffron, Rouhi’s autobiography finished with this memory:

“When we finally left Iran, two things happened. On the aeroplane as we’re about to land, my 13-year-old daughter told me to leave our hijabs on the seats, and then when we entered the airport, all the lights and the sound of music were amazing. In Iran everything was dark and hidden and there was no music. Here it was so different…”


Issue 19 of Write On! is out now and you can read it online here. Find it in libraries and other outlets. You can find previous editions of our magazines here

You can hear great new ideas, creative work and writing tips on Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo, or find us on


If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for ​information, advice and support​:

Writing in any language and genre is in the service of knowledge.