Istanbul is a vibrant destination for LGBTI refugees from Arab countries. However, some also live in fear in Turkey.
Dania Najjari, a 24 year-old Syrian girl, came to Turkey in 2015. She studied tourism at Mersin University and moved to Germany after joining a student exchange program. Dania always wanted to live the life she is living now in Germany but she was not able to do so neither in Syria nor in Turkey.
“I was not able to hold my girlfriend’s hand in public when I was in Turkey.”
Although Turkey does not criminalize homosexuality, LGBTI refugees do not always feel comfortable in Turkish society. On the other hand, returning home may be a death scenario for them.
Homosexuality is illegal in Syria where LGBTI people face many challenges. Her family’s attitude is no different. Dania says she receives online hate messages from Syrian people. She is lucky to have brothers who support her though.
“I did not get any support from civil society groups before traveling to Germany. However, in Berlin there are lots of non-governmental organizations for LGBTI people. One of them helped me with documents and put me in shelter. I can be myself here. They treat me with respect.”
“Most people seek asylum in a third country”
27 year-old A. is a Iraqi LGBTI rights activist, living in Turkey since 2012. He volunteered a support project for LGBTI refugees. A. says most LGBTI people in Turkey seek asylum from a third country.
“In 2017, we started raising money for shelters. After receiving donations, we rent a building in Istanbul. But two months later, there was a crackdown on NGOs. Some activists were deported and volunteers were detained.”
As the manager of the shelter, he left his job because he was scared.
“Police officers visited our shelter and we were very nervous. We decided to close down because we did not want to put anyone at risk. LGBTI community was still demanding support. So I started the Aman Project.”
The Aman Project works on advocating LGBTI refugees through providing direct emergency assistance for rent, food and medicine. The project operates in English, Arabic and Turkish. They give support people from Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Iran, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.
Like Dania, A. does not feel safe in Turkey too. He was physically attacked on the street two months ago. But he can’t go back to Iraq either. “I may leave Turkey but I will keep working for the Aman Project and continue to support LGBTI community here.”