LGBTI Refugees

The issues Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi LGBTI refugees face in Turkey

Evrensel: Constitutional Court halts deportation of trans refugees

 

The Constitutional Court halted the decision made by the Denizli Immigration Authority to deport two Iranian refugee trans women.

Source: “Trans mültecilerin sınır dışını AYM durdurdu,” Evrensel, 22 April 2017, https://www.evrensel.net/haber/316838/trans-multecilerin-sinir-disini-aym-durdurdu

The Constitutional Court halted the decision of the Denizli Migration Authority to deport two Iranian refugee trans women with the justification that it could bring about irreparable results. The two Iranian refugee trans women, who were taken into custody by the police on the evening of April 18 because they did not have work permits, were wanted for deportation by the Denizli Migration Authority with the allegation that they “disrupted public safety.”

The Denizli Migration Authority, which did not allow the refugees their right to object to the decision, wanted the deportation operation to take place in the morning hours of March 21 [sic. Article means April], but with pressure from both lawyers and associations doing work related to refugees and rights advocates, the Denizli Migration Authority was forced to suspend the operation.

The refugees’ lawyers Gamze Saymak and Tezcan Çakmak applied to the Constitutional Court and requested that an injunction be issued related to the deportation decision. The Constitutional Court, which evaluated the demand, ruled to temporarily suspend the two Iranian refugee trans women’s deportation.

The following was said in the ruling: “In order to evaluate whether or not there was a serious threat to the applicant’s life or material or spiritual wholeness through a concrete event, a need is felt for more information and documents. Additionally, in the case that the deportation operation were carried out during the period of research, irreparable consequences could emerge. For this reason, the decision has been made to temporarily halt the deportation of the applicant to their country in order for relevant information and documents to be collected and reevaluated.”

REFUGEES SENT TO ISTANBUL

The refugees, who were held at the Denizli Kınıklı Police Station for three days to be sent to Iran, were sent to the Istanbul Silivri Deportation Center without information being given to their lawyers. The Migration Authority denied the lawyers’ request for information, saying “you do not have power of attorney.”

MIGRATION AUTHORITY DID NOT WANT TO MAKE A DECISION

Lawyer Gamze Saymak, who spoke to our newspaper, while criticizing the attitude of the migration authority during this process, said: “Though we said that we had been appointed by the bar, the Provincial Migration Directorate did not give our side any information or documents and did not give us permission to review the file with the justification that we did not have power of attorney. They did not even want to accept the documents related to the case opened at the Denizli Provincial Migration Directorate Administrative Court or the application for injunction we made at the Constitutional Court. Only after much fighting we were able to deliver the documents.”

Syrian gay refugee killed in Istanbul

Muhammed Wisam Sankari was a gay Syrian refugee. He had arrived in Istanbul a year ago. He was threatened, kidnapped, raped. Last week he was found dead in Yenikapi and was stabbed multiple times. Wisam’s friends identified him by his pants.

Source: Yıldız Tar, “İstanbul’da Suriyeli eşcinsel mülteci öldürüldü”, kaosGL.org, 3 August 2016, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=22065

Syrian gay refugee Muhammed Wisam Sankari left his house in Aksaray on the night of 23 July. He was found dead in Yenikapi on 25 July. He was beheaded and his body mutilated beyond identification. Wisam’s killers have not been caught. Wisam, who was previously threatened, kidnapped by a crowded group of men, and raped, was trying to go to another country as a refugee because his life was in danger. After the murder, we listened to Wisam’s housemates Rayan, Diya and Gorkem tell us about what Wisam went through, what it is like to be an LGBTI refugee in Turkey, and the problems refugees face. They spoke to KaosGL.org about the murder that was so clearly in the making, how the authorities did not take any preventive measures, and their anxieties about “who is next”.

wissam

“We complained to the Police HQ, they did not do anything”

Rayan, who has known Wisam for a year, says “He was feeling very insecure recently. When we asked him, he would not tell us much” and explains that Wisam had been threatened and kidnapped before. He said they had difficulties even walking on the streets of Aksaray where they lived and where crowded male groups wielding knives had threatened them several times, saying they wanted to rape them. According to Rayan, Wisam experienced the following:

“We were staying in a different house before and we had to leave that house just because we are gay. People around would constantly stare at us. We did not do anything immoral? About five months ago, a group kidnapped Wisam in Fatih. They took him to a forest, beat him and raped him. They were going to kill him but Wisam saved himself by jumping at the road. We complained to the Police Headquarters but nothing happened.”

“We identified him from his pants”

Gorkem is also Wisam’s friend and he was among the people who went to identify the body after Wisam was killed. Gorkem tells the story of Wisam’s disappearance and the news of his death in tears:

“That night Wisam left the house. We were already anxious because of the threats. We told him not to go but he said he was going out for 15-20 minutes. He didn’t come home all night. The next day, we panicked when we couldn’t reach him. We went to the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM). They directed us to Fatih Police Headquarters. We did not even know how to get there or what to say.

“On Sunday police called us. We went to Yenikapi with Rayan. They had cut Wisam violently. So violent that two knives had broken inside him. They had beheaded him. His upped body was beyond recognition, his internal organ were out. We could identify our friend from his pants.”

“Who is next?”

Diya says they live in fear and with the thought of “who is next” following Wisam’s death and says they are afraid to go out on the street:

“I am so scared. I feel like everyone is staring at me on the street. I was kidnapped twice before. They let me go in Cerkezkoy and I barely got home one time. I went to the UN for my identification but they did not even respond to that. No one cares about us. They just talk. I get threats over the phone. I speak calmly so something does not happen. It does not matter if you are Syrian or Turkish, if you are gay you are everyone’s target. They want sex from you and when you don’t they just tag along. I don’t have identification, who would protect me? Who is next?”

Rayan criticizes ASAM and the United Nations. “What’s the use of them doing anything after Wisam is killed? Our friend is dead,” and adds:

“ASAM and the UN don’t do anything for us. We can only protect ourselves. We stay together to protect ourselves. We cannot get any information or answers. Just talk… ASAM called us after Wisam’s death. After his death… What’s the point? A very pure and good person is gone from this world.”

 

Syrian LGBT Refugees in Turkey: “If Syrians are our guests, why are they fleeing Turkey?”

Attorney Hayriye Kara: Syrians are not here because Turkey is gracious. They are not here because of our hospitality. “Guests” depend on “hosts.” Refugees are exercising their fundamental rights guaranteed by international law.

Source: Yıldız Tar, “If Syrians are our guests, why are they fleeing Turkey?” (“Suriyelier misafirse neden bizden kaçıyorlar?”), kaosgl.org, 1 October 2015, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=20258

Syrian refugees’ hardship in Turkey has been made visible by the now-ubiquitous photo of Aylan Kurdi, the little boy who washed ashore in Bodrum. Recently, refugees on their way to cross the land border into Europe were attacked by the police in Edirne, adding to the longstanding calamity that has befallen them as war victims.

We all felt sorry for them. We all shed tears for the toddler whose body washed ashore. But is it enough to feel sorry?

What do Syrian refugees go through in Turkey? Have they acquired a legal status since their arrival? Why have they been called “guests” and not “refugees?” Most importantly, if they are, in fact, our guests, why are they running away from us?

We asked these questions to Attorney Hayriye Kara who has worked extensively with refugees.

hayriyerop

What is the difference between a refugee and a migrant? What does this distinction mean in the case of Syrian war victims?

The definition of “refugee” originates in the 1951 Geneva Convention. According to the Convention, a refugee is someone who has fled his or her country for fear of violence due to his or her race, religion, nationality, or other social affiliation, who cannot or does not want to be protected by that country, and (if she or he does not have a nationality) who does not want to go back to his or her original country of residence due to violence. The Convention cites five reasons to flee one’s country: anyone who cannot resort to the protection of his or her country of citizenship, has been treated inhumanely or is subject to inhumane treatment because of one of these five reasons, is called a refugee. Migrant, on the other hand, is a person who immigrates in the hopes of accessing better life standards – that is, who emigrated for economic reasons. “Refugee” is an internationally defined category referring to movement due to one of the five cited kinds of threats to safety, whereas “migrant” defines all people who move domestically and internationally.

Does that mean that “refugee” is a more critical legal status than “migrant?”

That’s up for debate. What I just tried to provide are the legal definitions of these terms, but often, economic concerns are critical vital concerns as well. But legally speaking, refugees are those who have to leave their countries due to their identities and, specifically, the reasons cited in the Convention.

“We need to push the public opinion to recognize Syrians’ rights”

The recent picture of a toddler washing ashore in Bodrum contributed to the emergence of a sympathetic public opinion. Similar events happening in Edirne have become public. We discuss the refugees’ desire to leave for Europe but not the reasons why they don’t or can’t stay here. Why do they want to leave? What is it that makes them want to leave enough to risk their lives?

Turkey is a bordering country. The mass movement started back in 2011, not just now. Deaths and bodies washing ashore have been routine occurrences for a while. That sad picture [of Aylan Kurdi] has now helped form a public opinion. We understand now that Syrians are not here as tourists, that they came here out of necessity. But I think that the dominant public opinion revolves around a romanticized understanding of victims and not around the violation of their rights. The fact that people in Turkey now react is important, but we need to bring the public opinion back to the basis of rights.

Syrians and other refugees are not here because Turkey is gracious. They’re not here because of our hospitality. They are exercising their fundamental rights guaranteed by international law. Turkey is not doing them a favor. Refuge is a fundamental human right. This is the direction that we need to give to the public opinion.

According to the numbers given by the Directorate General of Migration Management, there are approximately 1.7 million registered Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. The number is estimated to be above 2 million when the unregistered ones are taken into account. There are also about 237 thousand asylum seekers from other countries waiting to be relocated to a third country. These numbers are severe. Of course, these numbers translate into social and economic liabilities, which shouldn’t be the burden of only the bordering countries. The economic and social burden needs to be shared internationally. But putting that aside for a minute, when the first waves of Syrians started coming into Turkey, their legal status was not recognized. They were called “guests.” There is no such thing in law as guest.

“Guests depend on their hosts”

Is the “guest” terminology used to avoid our responsibilities?

It’s a way not to recognize them legally. Guests depend on their hosts. Calling Syrians guests is denouncing their internationally recognized rights. The rhetoric of guests was later abandoned. Briefly, there was mention of temporary protection even though no such status was backed by any regulation. With the Foreigners and International Protection Act that passed in 2014, temporary protection was introduced. The Act was followed by a code. The new code regulates rights and responsibilities but it hasn’t been implemented well. The right to work is the most problematic area. Refugees can theoretically apply for the right to work, but in practice, it is impossible.

“Temporary protection” is issued provisionally in cases of emergencies when mass migration occurs, for instance, due to civil war. Temporary protection is not as comprehensive as international protection. It has set start and end dates. It stipulates that people will return to their countries of citizenship after the conflict ends. Rights guaranteed by “international protection” cannot be acquired with temporary protection. Temporary protection only addresses transitional situations. The concept of temporary protection should not obstruct the issuance of international protection.

There is no right to work, the right to health is limited, and food and shelter are still unresolved issues…

The provision of these things is the [Turkish] government’s responsibility as defined by international law. The right to shelter is not functioning properly. They have to work without papers. According to regulations, Syrians should be able to enroll in the healthcare system, but in practice they have trouble accessing the system. Many people are mistreated, cannot communicate well because of the language barrier, and do not have access to translators. There is no documentation for people’s personal needs. Because there is no documentation, people in need cannot be identified. The entire system consists of shots in the dark.

Syrians work for very low wages and pay abnormally high rents, are subjected to hate speech and discrimination in the street, and can’t access fundamental services. Evidently, they can’t see a future for themselves in Turkey. How can there be a temporary protection that lasts for four years? It’s unclear what’s next for them. As far as we know, the government has no social policy either. It is said that the conflict will last about 10 more years. This means that we will all live together at least for 10 more years. People can’t be sent back to a conflict zone. It is the government’s responsibility to regulate the rights to essential services, to build the practice of living together for all of us, and improve Syrians’ life standards.

According to current regulations, Syrians can’t become citizens or apply for international protection. Turkey does not offer Syrian refugees anything. Of course, that makes them want to leave for Europe.

LGBTI refugees are targets of racism and homophobia

Syrian refugees are not a homogeneous group. What is the experience of gay and trans refugees like?

Syrian refugees include Christians, Alevis, Sunnis, and Kurds. These groups experience many layers of discrimination. For instance, the Sunnis received religion-based assistance from the Turkish government, which Alevis and Christians couldn’t. But these social groups either came from Syria together or found each other here in Turkey. LGBTs never had that opportunity. Syrian LGBTs who reached and were assisted by Kaos GL have a certain economic standing, speak English, and have access to the Internet. The real problem is with LGBT refugees who work without papers and don’t have Internet access. Nothing is known about those people. And speaking of personal needs, sexual orientation and identity were not covered in the new code. Even for civil society organizations, sexual orientation and identity are afterthoughts. Every Syrian is assumed to be heterosexual.

The LGBT refugees that I’m in touch with are not very keen on being with other Syrians. They experience oppression and aggression from both Turkish and Syrian societies. Different forms of discrimination are not experienced in clear-cut ways. When they intersect, problems become multilayered. Gay and trans refugees are targets of both racism and homophobia.

Even when they enter Turkey from the land border, many gay and trans Syrian refugees come to Istanbul and Izmir. Loneliness becomes routine when they can’t find more people like themselves. On the other hand, for instance LGBT refugees from Iran are very organized. We can speak of an Iranian LGBT movement with its own alternative support and communications network. There’s no such network for Syrians. Recently, Syrian LGBTs in Istanbul started organizing with the help of Lambdaistanbul. This sort of initiative is very important to alleviate problems, however slightly.

Another problem has to do with the camps. Civil society representatives are not allowed to enter camps administered by AFAD (the Prime Ministry, Disaster and Emergency Management Authority). Serious allegations of code violation, harassment, and human trafficking go uninvestigated. The camps in Suruç, on the other hand, are supported by the municipality and the public in general, so the civil society is present there.

LGBTI refugees constitute the most invisible group

The Lambdaistanbul LGBTI Refugee Commission has released a written statement for the June 20th Refugees Day. The Commission, which listed the problems experienced by LGBTI refugees in Turkey and shared their demands, said that “LGBTI immigrants and refugees constitute the most invisible and disadvantaged group.”

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Syrian Trans Refugee Mişa: Trans Guesthouse has become a home for me

Discussions on trans refugees were held as part of the trans pride week. Mişa, a Syrian trans refugee woman, lamented “I imagined that I would be happy in Istanbul. Apparently, I was wrong.”

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Suriyeli Trans Mülteci Mişa: Trans Misafirhanesi evim gibi oldu” (“Syrian Trans Refugee Mişa: Trans Guesthouse has become a home for me”). Kaos GL, 20 June 2015, http://www.kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=19661

Organized by the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association, 6th Trans Pride Week continues. As part of the various panels and workshops taking place during the week, a discussion on trans refugees was held. Problems of trans refugees seeking shelter and various solutions to their problems including the trans guesthouse were presented.

transmultecipanel (1)

The panel, held at the İsmail Beşikçi Foundation, was moderated by Deniz Tunç. The speakers were Mişa, a trans refugee woman and occupant of the trans guesthouse; Zeynep Kıvılcım of the Istanbul University Political Sciences Faculty, Cansu Alözkan of the Refugees and Immigrants Solidarity Association and Selin Berghan of the Pink Life Association.

Trans Guesthouse provided shelter for 50 people

In her opening speech, Deniz Tunç provided updates on the Trans Guesthouse.  According to Tunç, the trans guesthouse provided shelter to almost 50 people. “We have hosted as many as 20 LGBTI refugees from war and we will continue to accommodate them as long as our resources allow us. It is, however, time to stand in solidarity with the guesthouse.” Tunç continued.

“I imagined that I would be happy in Istanbul, Apparently I was wrong”

First panelist Mişa, a Syrian trans refugee woman, talked about the hardships of being an asylum seeker and what she went through in Istanbul.

“When I first got here, I imagined that I would be very happy here and that I would have a good future. I thought people would be open-minded and respectful but apparently I was wrong. I escaped Syria because it is a homophobic country and I was not respected there. In Istanbul though, every day is a different adventure. I do not have a job. Istanbul is an expensive city. I do not have an ID card. I have no income to speak of. The only place I can live in is the Taksim area and it is very expensive here. I have thought about returning to Syria after going through all of these problems. I risked going back, even though my life was in danger there. That is when some people told me about the Trans guesthouse and that I could stay there. I met the people in the organization and they told me that I could stay with them until I get my life in order. Later, I registered with the United Nations as a refugee. If it were not for the Trans Guesthouse, I would be on the streets now.”

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Psychological, legal, and social support for Trans Guesthouse

Istanbul LGBTT is launching the Eylül Cansın Transhouse Project to provide psychological, legal, and social support for the residents of the Trans Guesthouse. [To contribute to the Trans Guesthouse, please contact the Istanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association.]

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Trans Misafirhanesi’ne psikolojik, hukuki ve sosyal destek sağlanacak” (“Psychological, legal, and social support for trans guesthouse”), KaosGL, 26 May 2015, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=19500

Istanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association is launching the Eylül Cansın Transhouse Project to address the psychological, legal, and social support needs of the Trans Guesthouse. Supported by the Netherlands, the project will provide vocational training programs as well as psychological support for trans residents on a regular basis.

The residents of both the Çingene Gül Guesthouse, which was initiated some years ago by Istanbul LGBTI, and of the Eylül Cansın Guesthouse, which is being developed through Trans Angels’ support, will now be able to receive legal counselling, attend accessory design workshops, and produce and sell handmade accessories.

All proceeds from the accessory design workshop will go to the guesthouse

In our conversation about the Association’s new project, Deniz Tunç noted that the Eylül Cansın Transhouse Project will greatly contribute to the institutionalization of the guesthouse. Tunç remarked that so far the guesthouse has survived through solidarity:

“Till now, the basic needs of the guesthouse were being met by the visitors. This project will enable the trans women who reside here to have their basic needs met. The end results of the accessory design workshop will be displayed for sale on 20 November, the Transgender Day of Remembrance; as part of the week’s activities, we will hold a charity sale and exhibition for the accessories. All proceeds will go to the guesthouse.”

Yearlong psychological counseling

Tunç noted that group therapy and one-on-one counseling will be made available to trans residents: “Trans people are discriminated against in every domain of life. The trans people who come to the guesthouse are usually people who have been excluded from social life and who experience extreme isolation. Many trans women don’t even want to go outside. They have been getting counseling from volunteer psychologists, but we’ll systematize that service.”

Legal support for LGBTI war victims

The project includes services for LGBTI refugees as well. Istanbul LGBTI will provide legal support for LGBTI war victims’ applications to the UN. Legal support will not be limited to refugees. The new transhouse website will provide both online and face-to-face consultancy to trans residents.

The utilities of the guesthouse are being paid through the proceeds of the fashion show held by Trans Angels on 20 November 2014 and other charity events. However, the guesthouse needs contributions.

To contribute to the Trans Guesthouse, please contact the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association.

A young gay Syrian’s story – from Syria to Turkey

This is the story of Maher, who had to escape and migrate from Syria to Lebanon, then to Sudan, and finally to Turkey. A life wrapped in the war in Syria and dual discrimination both as a Syrian and as a gay man in Turkey. 

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Suriye’den İstanbul’a eşcinsel bir gencin hikayesi” (“A young gay’s story from Syria to Turkey”). Kaos GL, 24 October 2014, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=17785

Millions of Syrians were forced out of their homeland as a result of the war in Syria and ISIS assaults. Some headed over to Europe; many lost their relatives during as their travels was well as the war.

Maher  Daoud, who we interviewed in a coffee shop in Kurtuluş, Istanbul, was  among the millions who had to leave their homeland. He had to leave Latakia in the 23rd year of his life which began in the city. Maher tells  the story of migration from Latakia [al-Lādhiqīyah]  to Lebanon, then to Sudan, and finally to Istanbul. He speaks fast, telling his story at once, as if someone were following us.

“Art is like breathing”

Maher,  who is now 24, is a young gay artist. He studied architecture in Syria.  However, he was forced to leave before being able to graduate. He also draws aquarelle and acrylic illustrations. Maher says that, in each of  his drawings, a gay story is hidden. To Maher, to make art is to breathe.  Because Syria does not have a “gay life,” art is the only space within which he can breathe.

I ask about the situation in Latakia. Maher says that life in Latakia is horrible:

“Latakia is Bashar al-Assad’s city. As such, the pressure was always intensive.  To speak, to do something was almost impossible. It was so in art too. I  had to put a lot of effort to be able to open my second art exhibit.  You have to get signatures from a lot of places. I had to deal with  almost every police officer in the police station. They examine each and every painting, find some to be “appropriate” and some “inappropriate.”  They kept asking why I was making such paintings. They were trying to judge whether I was against Bashar al-Assad.”

maherdaoud

Maher dislikes talking about politics. This also has to do with the notion that “it is a sin to speak politics in Syria.” He thinks that politics changes nothing. He desires more art.[1]

Things became even tougher with war. He says that the war between Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)  made things much more difficult in Syria. To Maher, the rebellion for “freedom” was initially beautiful. However, everything changed when Assad began the massacres and when those opposing Assad began using the same methods [sic].

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