No safety in sight: Forgotten LGBTIQ asylum seekers in Turkey

Turkey has been a transition country for many asylum seekers for decades. The process requires applying for refugee status at the UN office in Ankara. After the first announcement, a refugee is assigned to a city in Turkey, in which they need to stay until the final decision on their cases. Nowadays, this process can take up to 8 years.

Black and white image of a person sitting next to window; a person is visibly sad.
Photo by Hunter Newton on Unsplash

While the process is difficult for all asylum seekers, LGBTIQ asylum seekers suffer more than the others, as they cannot seek help from their communities and cannot connect to the Turkish community because of the homophobic culture in Turkey (which is not far from their own countries). This matter would expose them to brutal behaviours, abusive comments, and even murder. They need to be in the closet until they get to their destination country.

Unfortunately, the challenges do not end there. In recent years, UNHCR has given all the responsibilities to the immigration offices in Turkey. Most case officers are not trained on the issues of LGBTIQ people and know nothing about the dangers LGBTIQ asylum seekers face. Their homo/ transphobia can go extreme way resulting in deportation of LGBTIQ asylum seekers. Therefore, the cases take forever to assess. Meanwhile, LGBTIQ persons do not have access to basic needs and by law, cannot work.

Not having work rights means that LGBTIQ asylum seekers find work in an illegal way, which often leads to exploitation and abuse in the workplace. Yet in most cases, they cannot find work due to xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and discrimination. These issues relate to housing as well. Finding a safe home can be very difficult.

To make the situation worse, recently Turkey has cut the medical insurance for asylum seekers. They need to pay a large amount of money for any medical needs. The problem can be doubled for LGBTIQ asylum seekers who live with HIV, or for trans people who need to get their hormonal therapy. There are very few resources for transexual refugees. But even in that case, the money the UN or Turkish government provides is not sufficient to pay their rent, let alone meet other basic needs. 

There are some organisations in Turkey which are helping LGBTIQ asylum seekers for giving advice for official documentations regarding their cases, and or helping with their mental health. However, they do not have enough power to influence immigration office or UNHCR to achieve systemic improvements for LGBTIQ asylum seekers.

In Turkey LGBTIQ asylum seekers are in dange. They do not enjoy any basic human rights. We need to amplify their voice. They have been ignored and silenced for too long. Immigration officials and UNHCR offices need to ensure their safety. 

*This post is written for FDPN by Bijan Kardouni and Nima to shine the light on the situation in Turkey.