Kaos GL - Report on LGBTT Refugees in Turkey 2008
Kaos GL report on LGBTT refugees after fieldworks on November 2007 and May-June 2008 in Kayseri, Eskişehir, Isparta and Ankara was published in 2008. You can find the full report below.
In the interviews that we had with LGBTT refugees in Ankara and also in satellite cities where the refugees live, we requested them to tell us their reasons of coming to Turkey from Iran, the adaptation problems they have in Turkey, the problems they encounter in Turkey and the hardships that they face in psychological, legal and health areas. In addition, we also asked whether they can utilize occupational and financial aids and aids in kind or not.
We asked questions to LGBTT refugees under three headings. We requested them to evaluate the reasons of coming from Iran, the problems they have in Turkey and the services they receive from institutions and non-governmental organizations in Turkey.
There were two important reasons for asking these questions. Firstly, we wanted to detect and report the problems that LGBTT refugees encounter. Secondly, we tried to determine what the refugees need in which fields at the phase of creating Refugee Support Program within Kaos GL Association. In the light of these needs we want to create a support program that shall serve to the refugees.
At the phase of the study on this report, we realized how important it is to give social and psychological support to lgbtt refugees in addition to legal supports. Especially, we saw that the lgbtt refugees in satellite cities of Turkey have hardship accessing health services and deprived of the right to work compared to other refugees and indeed they are still living the life that they had in their country of origin.
- 1 Reasons of Coming from Iran
- 2 The hardships encountered in Turkey
- 3 Social Life
- 4 Violence and Discrimination against LGBTT Refugees
- 5 Attitude of the Police
- 6 Difficulties encountered in healthcare field
- 7 Psycho – Social Support
- 8 Sexual Health
- 9 Financial Status
- 10 Social Support and Legal Process
Reasons of Coming from Iran
When we asked LGBTT Refugees “the reason for coming from Iran” the majority of the answers was composed of “vice squad”, “imam of the quarter” and that the obligation to flee from Iran when their “families” found out that they were homosexual. Stating that the punishment of homosexuality in Iran might start with whipping and end up with execution, the refugees said that it became impossible to live in Iran after the homosexuality became apparent and that the police told their families and business places that they were homosexual and even they started investigations on their names.
LGBTT Refugees that come to Turkey do not become refugees “in order to live in a more liberal country”. They leave their homes only to "survive and live".
The refugees listing the reasons for leaving Iran:
“I had a quarrel with my family. They forced me to marry for the second time. My brother-in-law tried to rape me at our home. They made me marry to the son of my uncle at the age of 21. I fled from home. I couldn't explain this subject to my family and that's why I fled. My brother-in-law works in the national intelligence agency. They figured out that I am lesbian after I fled. I went to my friend Ruta. They found the house and business place of Ruta and started to disturb her as well. Our friends found her and began to threaten her. So they were going to find where ever I was in Iran. Consequently I fled from Iran.” “In the hospital that I used to work, one of the patients had his teeth operations done. After the last examination, he was waiting for me and invited me for a dinner. We became friends. He said that he was gay as well and we started having intercourse. When his family went away for vacation he would call me. We were sleeping at his master bedroom hugging each other completely naked. At that point a beardy man came in and he had a gun on his belt. He said that “you deserve death”. There was a vase and he threw it to me. He locked the door on us and went away. I had one chance to go out and I jumped off the balcony. I came home around 11. My friend called me when I was home. He said "If my father threatens you, take it serious. My father works in Iran intelligence police. Take his threat serious". I didn't take it seriously. I went to work the other day and my neighbors said that two civil police asked me. I was still lucky because my family wasn't at home and they could only talk to the neighbors. His mother wasn’t at home and his father died at the age of six. I barely slept at night. Telephone of my friend was out of order either. When I went to work the other day, the owner of the policlinic said that we didn't have much patient so I could leave for home. However I had so many patients that I should see. My assistant was a woman and she told me everything. They didn't pay my severance. A uniformed official came and talked to the director of the hospital. I came home and it was getting dark. I saw that four people were waiting in a car in front of the house. I realized that they were following me after I passed them by. I entered a market that is open 7/24. I saw that the car didn’t have a back traffic plate. I wanted to cry. These didn’t seem like a joke to me any more. I started to be afraid. My phone rang after 5-6 minutes. A stranger was calling and he said that they will have the honor to kill me and that they were going to be promoted. They were threatening me all the time and there was no one at home. After I was home, I packed my belongings, took my passport and fled without saying goodbye to my family. I went the house of my friend. I left a note saying that I was going to stay with my friend. The other day I bought a train ticket and came to Turkey.”
“I am a lesbian. My life was at danger at my home country. I met my friend M via internet. M fled from home and took shelter in my house. After M stayed with me for some time her father and brother-in-law came to my house. M wasn't at home. They told me that they were going to kill us and they slapped me. Then we had to run away.
“My lover was married. We had been together for one year. While we were having sex at home his wife came home and saw us together. She threatened me and cursed at me. Then she continued cursing coming to the house that I lived with my family. Then she also went to the police. I left home and hid in the house of a friend and started to look for ways of escape. My father disinherited me for I was “gay”. He tried to stay away from me as much as possible. And one day he threatened to kill me. My sister advised me to flee from Iran. She said that I was going to be killed I stayed: “If I stayed either my father was going to kill me or I was going to be executed by law”. “I had no money or belonging and I fell into depression. I was feeling desperate and lonely. I didn’t know what to do.” One of my friends advised me to go to Turkey since no visa was required. “I bought a train ticket. I called my sister and wanted my passport. And she gave me some money. I got the train and came to Turkey.”
“I was invited for a birthday party of one of my friends in Esfahan. I entered the street. The house was surrounded by special forces of Iran and they captured the guys in the street. I tried to get out of the street when I saw them. They surrounded my car. They asked what I was doing with those flowers; if I was going to a party.” I fled by car immediately. They ran after me for a while. I went back home and called PGLO. The next day I started follow what happened to those guys. I was forwarding this information to Asham Parsi. They tormented the guys and wanted them to report the people they knew. And they gave the addresses and telephone numbers. 2 or 3 days later I received some calls. They were telling me that I was known to be a homosexual and wanted me to surrender. I said that it was the wrong number and hung up the phone. They came home when I was at work. They told my family that I am homosexual and said that I should go and surrender myself. If you confess that you are homosexual in Iran then you are immediately put to death. That’s why I couldn’t surrender and faced the violence of my family when I was home. Since they didn’t know that I was gay before. They threw me out of the house. They thought that homosexuals were dirty. That’s why I ran away. I was aggrieved both in respect of my family and the state. I came to Ankara by plane.”
“It is very hard for a gay to live in Iran Islamic Republic. My lecturers in the university look at me with a “different” eye. You are either harassed or executed. I am always subject to harassment in social life. My family would always fight because of a male lover. A gay can not express himself freely. You can not walk with your lover because this is forbidden and you get punishment. I had a car. We would go on trips with my lover Yaşar. While were going out of town the special forces blocked the way and said “two young people can not go there. Why are you going there?". The point of view of the society towards the gay is very bad in Iran. When they wore perfume, people would say "a man shouldn’t smell good” and they would constrain them.”
The hardships encountered in Turkey
Most of the LGBTT refugees come to Turkey with only a backpack leaving their lovers, friends, works and all savings without notice of their families. They don’t know what is at hand for them in Turkey and how is the process going to be. They don’t have any saving since they come to Turkey fleeing. And this means that a new life in Turkey shall start with different problems. They encounter economical, psychological and social problems. They can not utilize the most basic sheltering right that a person needs in order to maintain, the right of accessing health services and the right of working.
Add to that, lgbtt refugees are sent to satellite cities like Van, Kayseri, Isparta, Antep and Nevşehir where it is even hard for Turkish homosexuals to live. They are subject to discrimination and violence there due to their sexual orientations and sexual relations. They don’t report these violence acts to the police since they don’t have good relations with the police as well. Lgbtt refugees that don’t want to live in these cities live in provinces like Ankara, Istanbul and İzmir as fugitives. Since they live there as fugitives they encounter problems with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and can not utilize the social aids like health.
They encounter adaptation problems since they don’t know how long they are going to stay in this country. In addition, the provinces that they have to live in are the ones that Turkish homosexuals are not visible. Lgbtt refugees are subject to violence and discrimination arising out of homophobia and xenophobia. Many of the citizens think that the Republic of Turkey gives salary and housing aid to refugees and that refugees can utilize health services freely. For that reason social aid mechanisms don’t work for refugees.
“People in street spit and curse on us. We sent e-mails everywhere. We said that this place isn’t safe. We need urgent action. When we go to the market they don’t want to sell us anything. Everyone is calling us “ball” (a common insult against homosexuals in Turkey). Most importantly the periods have gotten too long.”
“They have been treating us badly since the day we arrived. They stoned us. I can’t dare to go out. I am afraid. We go out at nights. We can not go out within the day. People call us ball all the time. This really disturbs us. We can not dare to fight. We are afraid that the police will send us back. They chased us so many times. They kicked us a couple of times. They kicked me on the back of my head once. We applied to social solidarity and contribution fund but they didn't accept. I went to see the governor. They told me "are you Bülent Ersoy? (a famous transsexual singer) And they insulted at me. We have changed three houses since the day we have arrived. We have been kicked out of three houses. We have been staying for 6-7 months. We stay in a house far from the center. We pay 100 YTL for the rent. We went to the mosque on Friday. I went to see the governor and rejected. Refugees can not utilize social contribution fund in general.”
“You encounter thousands of problems. I was leaving my country for the first time and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know the language. I was afraid when I came here. I was afraid that they would bring me back to Iran. I had problems with food and clothing. Other foreign people come here with their laptops while we came here with our backpacks. I directly came to Kayseri. I applied to the police. They call Bülent Ersoy "grandmother" in Kayseri. We are 7 homosexuals living in a house. We can't work. We have economic problems. There are health problems. There is the dental problem and we can’t go see the doctor. Can you do anything for dental health? I have sciatic veins. I started encountering problems in the first cold weather. She is a nervous wreck. She can't go to the police for signature. And they dragged me again and again. And I started to go. They said that I had to go for signature. They think that I am lying. They only have fun with me and don’t help me. We have only bread as an aid. I went to Asam even but they didn’t help me. They gave clothing only once. I still need clothing.”
“I have too many problems. The biggest problem is housing. I have moved six times. After the neighbors realize, they make fun of me and threaten me. I live with lesbian Yahey. We get on very well. We understand each other. I can't find a job. They don't give me job for I am both refugee and homosexual. I have psychological problems. I have been waiting form 10 months for the pre-interview. I don't know how the time shall pass. My nerves have gotten worse. I look at the wall for 3 hours blankly. I have run out of money. I had very few. I have some debts. I owe to my gay friends.”
Violence and Discrimination against LGBTT Refugees
While not every part of Turkey provides equal opportunities for LGBTT individuals, it might also make the life of LGBTT individuals’ lives harder. There are 28 satellite cities in Turkey and while it is almost impossible for Turkish LGBTT individuals to live in these cities explicitly, LGBTT Refugees are settled in these cities. It is almost impossible for transsexual and transvestite refugees to settle and work in these cities and all of the LGBTT refugees are subject to violence, harassment and discrimination. All of the LGBTT refugees that we interviewed in Kayseri, Isparta and Ankara stated that they are subject to violence and harassment.
“One of my friends was going to Ankara. We saw her off in the station. A car was passing by and they drove the car towards us. Moreover, they said something in Turkish and went away. Our friend had gotten the shuttle and gone. Then, while we were returning to home we realized the same car and the people in it came towards us. They insulted us with words such as bitch, ball, gay, etc. They started to beat Hülya and continued kicking with clubs. We were 7 and 6 of us got beaten. We recorded the traffic plate of the car and called the police and then reported them.”
“I have encountered too many problems because Turkey is also very conservative and similar to Iran in some ways. We are made fun of so many times. We can't go out during the day. When I go out the shopkeepers point me and make fun. For example, when I go to the bakery, the guy shouts "deal with this woman". When I am on a crowded street, young people make a pass at me and harass me.”
The transsexual refugee A.T. that has applied to LGBTT Rights Platform has been living in Ankara as a fugitive since she has been subject to violence in two cities to which she had been sent by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. However violence doesn’t leave her in peace in Ankara as well. This violence shows how hard it is for refugees to take shelter somewhere which is one of the most fundamental rights of humans.
“I rented a house in Ankara. I rented that house thinking that there would be no problem since they didn't ask me my sexual identity. The house was furnished and I wasn't going to pay real estate agency commission. And I had to find a house immediately. I rented the house and I paid 300 YTL rent, 200 YTL of which was in advance. A week later someone came to my house and I opened the door since it was the householder. He told me that "I want to have sex with you, or else I wouldn't have let you rent the house". I was angry and I shut the door. They knocked on the door with clubs and woods at 08.00 a.m. and they entered my house by force. I called the police but I couldn’t give the address since I couldn’t speak Turkish very well. Then they tried to enter by breaking the door. My householder didn't understand that I was transsexual and he was cursing me for not having sex with him. When they broke the door I hid in one of the rooms. I thought they were going to kill me and jumped off the balcony from the 2nd floor. Ambulance came and took me to Dış Kapı Hospital. After the event 2 police cars came. If they hadn't, they were going to kill me.
Attitude of the Police
LGBTT refugees that are subject to violence and harassment say that they can’t claim their rights since the police say that “you will get nothing out of this case, don’t report for vain”, “come on make peace” and even they assume a judgmental attitude towards them saying “you shouldn’t make it apparent on the street”. In addition to the fact that satellite cities are located in small and conservative towns of Turkey, the political refugees coming from Iran say that “you give us a bad name, you are the disgrace of Iran.”
They stated that they don’t encounter any problem with the Foreigners Department however they can’t understand why the signature days change from city to city. Transsexual refugees stated that they are afraid to go out and being harassed all the time.
They expressed that the police show tolerance if they have a disease and ask them to certify that they have a disease.
Especially some transsexuals and effeminate gays expressed that police make fun of them or filibuster when they go for giving signature.
“One night, two guys tailed after them constantly asking for the time when they were going home. One of his friends turned and told them that they don’t know Turkish. That person got angry saying why don’t you answer. Then they attacked and beat them.
The next day they went to the police but the police didn’t pay attention and didn’t put into records claiming that they should have come when the incident happened.”
Refugee O.A. got in touch with LGBTT Right Platform via Van Women Association and sent the letter she/he sent to Security General Directorate to us. We publish O.A.’s letter in which he/she tells about the problems she/he has in Van as a refugee gay:
To the Security General Directorate Foreigners Section Directorate
I, O.A, am a refugee from Iran and temporarily need to live in VAN in order to go to the third country.
This letter may be the last one I present to you, because I do not know which authority to get in touch to convey my lament and I am writing this letter in fear as my last hope.
As a gay, I am a refugee who has to stay in VAN compulsorily and I fled my own country and took shelter in Turkish government. Despite my folder which was approved by UNHCR and my giving letter to your office ………………… and not getting a reply, I have experienced worse incidents than I had in my own country and I am still experiencing, and there is no authority to help me, understand me, place me in a safe province and I am scared of the police or authority I know, if you ask for the reason, I am presenting a little more detailed.
A few months ago I sent a letter to Ankara Security General Directorate. Police in Van asked me why I am not telling them my problem and writing to Ankara myself and I did not answer the question because the officer said “we, we are going to answer, not the other one” raising his voice. It has been months and after that letter they interviewed me and only the time of my signature has changed, meaning the same days just in the afternoon, after that interviewed they got my signature: from now on whatever happens to you, you should complain to us, not to the foreigners section and I had to sign it, before that I went to the police station because of a fight and I became the one who is disgraced and guilty….why? If the police in the TURKISH government treat us bad, what will the citizens do? That night, we heard the vulgar swears from the police that we had never heard before and that we never want to hear and we were really afraid. They even threatened us that they would deport us and they banished us from there swearing. And they even told us “don’t come here again you gays! Come here only when your are stabbed or lose huge amounts of money.” I have been living unsafely in fear being afraid of the police, foreigner department and the society of Van. I can't event count how many times I have been beaten in the street, cursed, harassed or threatened to be killed or beaten and there is no one that I can relate my complaints. The police that interview me in the police station tells me every time that I go there for signature that “you made yourself homosexual by force, are you also homosexual?” I have been listening to various words or hear the words “gay” from the police. One of the Iranian homosexuals went to the foreigner department after that fight and said that I don't accept that OMID is homosexual and the same person sat there and tried to make a fool of me. He spoke about the relations that we had and interestingly the police of Van called every other Iranian homosexual and asked about me. Should a couple of Iranian people prove that I am really homosexual or not? I think Van police does this on purpose. I am trying to save my life in a very unsafe environment right now. I don't understand why the police try to learn my sex without asking me. It is a nightmare for me to go for signature. I am asking you a question: Is homosexuality sleeping with everyone or someone you like or, excuse me, but having sex for money? If your answer is yes, then Van police and society are right; if your answer is no, then why they treat me so?
Now I am going to tell you two incidents to show you how I live in this hell of Van. Firstly, I was sitting in a bus and then the driver came and asked me to have sex downstairs explicitly. If I raise my voice among 50 other passengers I will be the one that is ashamed but that uncultured ignoble Kurdish guy will not be the one who is ashamed. Secondly, I was staying in a hotel and then a vile Kurdish guy likes me and says “come to my room tonight or I will make fool of you”. I dismissed the guy and he threatened me. He threatened me saying "I won't forget your name, you are dead".
I have been encountering such events every day and believe me I am really afraid. Everything I write is explicit and net. I am still afraid that the reply to this petition shall also be harsh. But I don’t have any remedy. I can’t bear it. I am not a prostitute. I esteem myself. I don’t even drink alcohol or smoke. But I am homosexual. Every day is like a torment here. Is that humane to live among betrayer and uncultured Kurds that swear at ATATÜRK every day? Is it so hard for the government of Turkey to help me? I only request you to send me to a safer place for this temporary period.
I respectfully request you to do what is necessary.
Difficulties encountered in healthcare field
They state that, when they have health problems, there are lots of bureaucratic procedures, most of the time they are not referred to the hospital in time by the social solidarity fund within the body of the Governorate, and, even though they are referred, hospital officials lay obstacles since “they do not know the process regarding refugees”. In addition, they express that they do not make any applications when they have some illnesses such as cold because there are lots of bureaucratic procedures. Furthermore, they state that the appointments with the refugees who have already come through this process and completed their meetings at the hospital are made at least for the following months and they are obliged to re-obtain a patient referral form for the appointment date. All of the refugees we had an interview with point out that they are not able to benefit from healthcare services in the satellite cities sufficiently. When we asked the refugees about their health problems, they expressed that their skin diseases, dental problems and the problems that had arisen from cold and become chronic continued.
Besides, lgbtt refugees who were referred to a psychiatrist or a psychologist during UNHCR process stated that, during the referral, a clear explanation had not been given to them regarding the reason of the referral, thus they had thought that there had been a problem arising from their files. Furthermore, they pointed out that the existence of a center like Özel Çankaya Polikinliği (Private Çankaya Outpatient Clinic), with whom UNHCR has an agreement in Ankara, in Kayseri was of essential for the solution of health problems.
Psycho – Social Support
They expressed that they could not receive psychological support and explained the difficulties of using a translator while receiving it: “Since a translator is never able to make myself understood as I am and I can never feel comfortable in the presence of a translator”.
They pointed out that the attention of a homosexual organization in Turkey to them would set them at ease psychologically and that they would like to see us more often. For us, their regular communication with homosexual organizations is crucial for the adaptation of LGBTT refugees to Turkey in terms of social support.
“We are very pleased to see you. Tens of people talked to us here. They gave us their words. Yet we do not know whether they understood us or not. Thus, such meetings exhaust us but you are homosexuals like us and we are sure you understand us. We are so glad that you have come and listened to our problems”
When we asked them whether they had a problem regarding sexual health, most of LGBTT refugees we had an interview stated that they had sexual health problems. They expressed that they had not gone through an examination for sexual health yet determined their problems on the base of the “physical symptoms”.
While it is almost impossible for a Turkish homosexual to make his/her venereal disease treated using his/her own social security, it becomes more impossible for lgbtt refugees to mention their problems in this field and benefit from treatment opportunities. Additionally, regarding venereal diseases, most of the time a doctor may reject to treat a patient when he/she becomes aware of the fact that the patient is a “homosexual”. At this point, it is not possible for LGBTT refugees with sexual health problems to make use of sexual health services in Kayseri. For the problems they encounter in sexual healthcare field, treatment conditions should be created in Ankara.
LGBTT refugees having financial difficulties expressed that they used neither condom nor lubricant. At this juncture, LGBTT refugees should be enabled to have access to free condom and lubricant.
“For almost one and a half month, I have a bleeding and itching anus. I saw a doctor; the doctor told that the reason was infection and prescribed six different medications. I have not recovered yet in spite of medications.
In satellite cities, it is almost impossible for LGBTT refugees to find a job. For LGBTT refugees, who can not even walk on the street comfortably, it is possible to describe being employed as a miracle. Refugees who can not find a job and stay in Turkey for 6 months to 3 years have financial difficulties since they can not find any job. The said situation may lead them to be regarded as cheap labor as illegal workers or to prostitution.
“People’s point of view is not different from those in Iran. Financial difficulties increase day by day.”
“People do not understand me. I can not find a job. I am in a bad situation psychologically. My job applications end up negatively. I have financial problems. My last resort is to work yet I can not find a job.”
“It is difficult to live in this city. Especially, I get annoyed of people’s view of me and my friends. Thy do not employ us. I found a job. I started to work as a dish washer. However, my coworkers always harassed me. They asked me to have a shave and, when I did so, stated that I looked like a girl. On the other hand, they proposed to have a sexual intercourse. While I was working, there were people who always “abused me by hand, disturbed me.” Since I know that the city is conservative, I do not put on make up; nevertheless people make fun of me. I am not a lazy person but they tell me to go to Ankara or İstanbul in every job application I make.”
Social Support and Legal Process
The fact that, in addition to Kayseri, Antep, Eskişehir and Isparta do not have any centers through which LGBTT refugees may receive social and legal support both obstructs the adaptation of LGBTT refugees to the city and makes the problems unsolvable. LGBTT refugees expect the associations working in the field of immigration to play a guiding and facilitative role not only in UNHCR processes but also in their relations with non governmental organizations and local institutions, particularly with the Police.
They express that they need all kind of social support to be offered by homosexual associations in Turkey. Furthermore, they stated that homosexual associations would have a crucial function in the prevention of problems they encounter in Turkey.
“When I first arrived, I knew nobody. I came to X and went to the Police. I did not go out of the house. Thus, I did not have any problems. My friends do shopping for me. I share the same house with my gay friends. Since I do not have any money, I do cooking and cleaning, thus I do not pay any rent in return. When I first came, I contributed to the payment of bills. But I ran out of money. My friends helped me a lot and they always support me.
I live with gays; I do not have any lesbian friends. I miss my family very much. I would like to leave Turkey as soon as possible and resume on my education.”
They are annoyed of the fact that pre-interview dates are dated for a very late date. They do not know what to do and how to live on during this process. They stated that they could endure all kinds of difficulties in case their files in UNHCR became clear as soon as possible. Furthermore, they expressed that UNHCR had a busy working schedule yet if a standard date was set for pre-interviews and interviews, they would feel much better and would not abandon themselves to despair.
Refugees whose countries are clear pointed out that they had not known how the process would get along after their countries became clear. They told that they especially had had difficulties in finding somebody to interview with in the embassy. They expressed that non governmental organizations would follow up their files particularly in this process and lay a bridge between embassies and refugees.
- This is the Report on the Problems of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite and Transsexual (LGBTT) Refugees of Kaos GL Association. This report, which has been prepared with the aim of determining the problems of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite and Transsexual (LGBTT) Refugees, has been prepared upon the interviews with the LGBTT Refugees in Kayseri, Eskişehir, Isparta and Ankara between November 2007 and May-June 2008. Nearly 70 refugees were interviewed for the preparation of this report.