Deporting LGBT Syrians From Turkey Is a Death Sentence to Many of Them

Monday 16 September 201909:16 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية

“The Istanbul sky is no longer kind to us and its land is too crowded for us” said a Syrian activist, commenting on the recent decrees by the Turkish Ministry of the Interior, capturing the feeling of many Syrians who no longer feel welcome with the ministry’s decision to reduce the number of refugees and force thousands to return home.

This decree has induced panic among refugees in general, but it has affected more vulnerable groups, particularly those of the Syrian LGBT community in Turkey.

Despite the extension of the deadline given by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylo from August 20 to October, Turkish police patrols continued to raid streets, public transport and squares in armoured vehicles to scrutinize Syrians’ documents and work permits and deport offenders in buses.

A Prisoner Inside Her Home

"We don't want to lose our livelihood again" says a 21-year-old Syrian who declined to give his real name, preferring to call himself Najwa, the name his friends in the LGBT community use.

Najwa came from Syria to Istanbul more than a year and a half ago illegally and has since been trying to obtain a temporary protection card in vain, despite resorting to several organizations and attempts to explain her difficult situation.

While the city of Istanbul stopped granting the temporary protection cards to Syrian refugees in early 2016, Najwa's financial circumstances prevented her from travelling to another region to issue this card, and she found herself forced to live without it, and was dependent on Syrian documents translated into Turkish as proof of identity.

Today, Najwa is in constant fear of being deported. Her Syrian papers are no longer useful to her, and she could no longer rectify her legal situation because of her difficult case: “All I looked for when I became a refugee in Istanbul was safety and work” She told Raseef22 “and now it seems like I have lost everything”.

Najwa complains about feeling imprisoned in her home saying “I am a prisoner in my home, I can’t go out into the street to buy what I need because of the Turkish police. I feel like my life has stopped and my work also, and I don’t how am going to support myself if things remain like this.”

Before this decree, Najwa worked in a tailoring workshop in Istanbul for more than 14 hours a day. And she felt safe and at ease there because of the social acceptance of the person she is, and this after she suffered a great deal in her previous life in Syria where she was forced to hide her sexual and gender identities from her family and society.

Deporting homosexuals to unstable areas where violence is rampant is a death sentence, especially for transsexuals. The majority of LGBT community members are rejected by their families in Syria particularly in areas under the control of armed militias
Nour was deported to Idlib after being imprisoned for two days in a police station in Istanbul, without regard to the fact that he is part of the LGBT community and the magnitude of the danger surrounding his return to Syria.

Returning Will Mean Torture and Death

In the past year, Najwa changed from being a shy person who hides behind their clothes and is unable to defend herself to someone who loves life and knows how to describe their gender identity without shame about their sexual orientation.

"I was partly out of the closet, and going back to it would completely destroy me," complains Najwa who describes being forced to leave as a death sentence.

She does not know how she will act if she suddenly finds herself in Syria where society will not accept her and she will be exposed to violence and danger, especially as her external appearance has changed and her demeanour betrays her identity clearly and she has no place to turn to there.

Najwa cannot travel to another state to issue a temporary protection card for fear of being arrested on the way and does not know how to solve this dilemma.

This is happening while the Turkish authorities have issued assurances that no Syrians without a temporary card will be forced to return to Syria, but many Syrian activists are sceptical of these assurances and consider them useful only to a limited number of individuals who are able to communicate with lawyers or human rights organizations that may be able to help them. However, this is not a a general policy given the continued deportations by the Turkish authorities.

The Deportation of Nour

One of the deportees was Najwa's friend, Nour. He was a holder of Kimlik documents- legal documents guaranteeing his protection. However, his Kimlik document was invalidated like many others after the updating of Kimlik holders data at the end of 2017. His document became a “white kimlik” or 98 while the updated ones are “yellow Kimlik” or 99.

Nour was deported to Idlib after being imprisoned for two days in a police station in Istanbul, without regard to the fact that he is part of the LGBT community and the magnitude of the danger surrounding his return to Syria.

Why Send Them to Hell?

The difficulties facing Syrians are not limited to the obtaining of Kimlik cards but also transferring their registration from one administrative region to another because registration has been stalled in Istanbul for more than a year.

Anas, a 30-year-old Syrian and an LGBT activist in Istanbul, now oversees part of a group's activities in the city. He thinks that Syrian homosexuals who live in Istanbul today are settled in their lives and work here or waiting to travel elsewhere through the UNHCR but sadly are being treated like other refugees without regard to their vulnerable status.

Anas points out that sending homosexuals to unstable areas where violence is rampant is a death sentence for some, especially transsexuals pointing out that the majority of LGBT community members are rejected by their families and Syrian society in general and particularly in areas of conflict under the control of armed militias.

“These people have nowhere to turn to in Syria and will, therefore, be displaced, be subject to social violence and targeted by the armed militias, what is the point of throwing them into this hell” says Anas adding that most people that he knows from the LGBT community comply with Turkish laws and don’t cause any trouble and are only concerned with preserving what little relative security and freedom they have.

“Istanbul is not a paradise but we are defending the little life we ​​have here,'' Anas says, noting that the Turkish Interior Ministry issued a statement in 2017 stating that Syrian refugees would be allowed to remain in the states they were registered in, but did not implement the decision and turned a blind eye to people who did not comply with the decree.

Anas has been living in Istanbul for more than a year after coming from Hatay province, where he was issued a Kimlik card after much trouble. Since then he has been trying to transfer his registration to Istanbul but to no avail, so he is required to leave the region.

Anas had moved to Istanbul to improve his life by seeking work in his field because of the greater availability of jobs in the city and the greater degree of freedom in comparison with the smaller cities He also wanted to be with his friends based in Istanbul to help them with LGBT activities.

“We are active and productive people who work hard to live a better life,” said Anas.

Volatile and Random

"Deportation is a painful, volatile and random process and has even included people with Kimlik cards, some of them issued from the Istanbul region but even that has not been taken into account” says Hassan, a 34-year-old Syrian from the LGBT community who was deported from Turkey nearly a year ago, he had his Kimlik card taken away after he attempted to cross into Greek territory.

Hassan was able to return to Turkish territory with the aid of smugglers after several months, and says: "Deportation policy is a random process and is not based on specific criteria but is subject to the mood of the Turkish police. This has been going on for more than a year but was limited and subject to media blackout."

Hassan explains that his sexual orientation exposed him to physical and psychological violence, so he tried to flee to another place (Greece) in search of safety and did not know that his trip would end with him being returned to Syria, specifically to a place controlled by "extremists", despite him telling police officers that he belonged to the LGBT community. Not all the young men who had attempted to cross were deported.

According to Hassan, he and his fellow deportees were searched and investigated about their religious, sectarian and regional backgrounds and examined on their religious knowledge as they entered the Syrian border from the Bab al-Hawa crossing in Idlib- their clothes and hairstyles were also mocked. Four friends of his were arrested and there has been no news of them since.

Hassan added that there were a number of other nationalities (Yemenis, Palestinians Algerians, Egyptians and Iraqis) who were also deported from Turkey to Syrian territory because they identified themselves as Syrians.

"I did not feel pain and fear at that moment like I feel today after the decision of the Turkish government," Hasan said. While the young man presents himself as a civil and human rights activist, he complains about his inability to help himself by saying: "We went to all the international and Turkish LGBT NGOs to help us, but everyone shut their doors in our faces and said they couldn’t help, having Kemlik documents does not provide protection against deportation anymore."

Najwa, Anas and Hassan have undergone a long and arduous journey in order to live their lives and understand themselves and live in a relatively safe environment, where they can express themselves in a place where there is less pressure than in Syria.

Today, they live in constant anxiety and tension over their arrest and deportation to Syria. "We are prisoners inside our homes and we are afraid of every around us. How long will this horror continue?"

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