LGBT in Turkey

Lesbian Gays and Bisexual in Iran and world: The Republic of Turkey is bordered by eight countries: Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria as well as the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea rand the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey is the only NATO member state to border Iran, Iraq, Syria, and three former Soviet Republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia Turkey is also enduring the spill over of refugees from the Syrian war. For example in 2015, 2.2 million Syrians fled to Turkey, according to Human Rights Watch. Afghan and Iraqi refugees have settled in Turkey as well.

Turkey has become a country of transit for immigrants, a country of transit to the European Union immigration and asylum and a country for mixed migration flows from Asia and Africa to Europe. This country has bear witness to the rise in the numbers of LGBT asylum seekers in recent years. This has had a profound impact on the changing patterns of immigration into Turkey as at one time there were growing concerns in Europe that if Turkey were to become a member of the EU, there would be a massive wave of immigration from Turkey to the more prosperous members of the union.

Although Turkey is amongst the original signatories of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Turkey is also amongst a very small number of countries that maintains a “geographical limitation” to the agreement’s applicability as defined in Article 1.B(1)(a) of the Convention. “The roots of the geographical limitation date back to the original 1951 Geneva Convention, which concerned itself only with persons who had become refugees as a result of events that occurred before January 1, 1951. This means that The Convention offered signatories the option of limiting their protection to persons who had been rendered refugees as a result of events in Europe.” Accordingly, Turkey does not grant refugee status to asylum seekers coming from outside Europe, and maintains a two-tiered asylum policy.

Despite this geographical limitation to the 1951 Refugee Convention, in 2013 Turkey adopted a comprehensive, EU-inspired Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP), which establishes a dedicated legal framework for asylum in Turkey and affirms Turkey’s obligations towards all persons in need of international protection, regardless of country of origin, at the level of binding domestic law.

The law also created the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) mandated to take charge of migration and asylum.

Facing persecution, violence and even death, Iranian LGBT refugees flee most commonly to Turkey, where they seek asylum status from the UNHCR. Iran may enforce the death penalty for consensual same-sex conduct and has, by some estimates, executed thousands of LGBT individuals.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ankara, more than 26,500 Iranian refugees were registered as of May 2016. Around 5,000 of them are under 18 years old.

However, fleeing to Turkey is not entering the Magic Kingdom of Acceptance. It can also be a potentially troubling as Iran’s neighbouring country Turkey may not protect LGBT rights any better.

In the understandable need to flee, some persecuted LGBT individuals end up in a neighbouring country that is dangerously homophobic and where the prejudice against sexual minority is high. Consequently some LGBT individuals only feel marginally safer and legally stable. Many LGBT individuals arrive in Turkey to confront another stratum of violence and harassment by local communities and other refugees.

“LGBTs are among the most marginalized and vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey today. The protections extended by the government of Turkey and UNHCR allow these individuals to escape the severe mistreatment, torture, and death they face in their countries of origin. Unfortunately, their physical survival is often mired in new dangers and deprivations in Turkey.”

In April 2015 a Pew Research disclosed that only 4% of respondents in Turkey rated homosexuality as morally acceptable, 12% as not moral issue, and 78% as morally unacceptable.

Whilst awaiting the determination of their refugee status in Turkey, many LGBT avoid the police, are afraid to leave their homes, and have very limited access to social support, employment, and medical care.

A report by the Organization for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration also confirmed that many LGBT refugees in Turkey are afraid to leave their apartments because of targeted violence from locals and other refugees. There have been reports that LGBT Iranian exiles have been subjected to a string of violent hate attacks and murders in Turkey.

According to a 2012 report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, crimes against LGBT people often go unpunished because Turkey has no specific legislation to protect them. In addition to having meagre non-existent financial means or resources to provide for themselves whilst seeking asylum in Turkey, LGBT individuals have very limited rights under the Turkish Law 187, including limited access to employment and universal health care.

Until they have official documentation, asylum seekers are in limbo: they face the daily fear of being arrested or deportation. As most make this hellish journey penniless or with sparse financial resources, many have little or no money. They must seek employment, housing, and survive without a social support system.

Reports have seeped out that LGBT Iranian exiles have been subjected to a string of violent hate attacks and murders in Turkey. Abuses against LGBT people and their advocates are rife in Turkey.

According to a 2012 report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, it was opined that the Turkish government views Iranian refugees as a short-term problem, because they cannot ever permanently live in Turkey. These asylum seekers’ stay in Turkey is limited until resettlement, typically to the United States, Canada or Australia. As previously stated although Turkey is one of the original signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is considered the backbone of the international asylum system, Turkey does not accept permanent refugees from Iran or any other part of the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Turkey applies a geographical limitation to the Refugee Convention, meaning that that vast majority of forced migrants entering its borders today—refugees from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa—are not accorded asylum in Turkey. Instead the responsibility for their protection falls primarily to UNHCR, which is charged with finding them a durable solution, usually involving resettlement.

Whilst in Turkey, LGBT refugee applicants are subject to the country’s complex asylum procedures a process fraught with anxiety and that often feels incomprehensible and capricious. Even more daunting is the resettlement process itself. It is a rigorous process to determine whether or not there are legitimate claims being made and not everyone is successful in convincing the UNHCR or the country to which they have fled that they are LGBT and that returning to their country of origin is unthinkable. Previously, the waiting time in Turkey was between 10-14 months. Now it can take up to 3 years. During this waiting period those LGBT asylum seekers must economically fend for themselves.

Many LGBT asylum seekers described invasive questioning regarding their sexual history and sexual experiences during their temporary asylum interviews such as being asked about their favourite sexual positions and the number of sex partners they had. Many of the interviews were not conducted in private with police officers in the room who mocked or laughed at them during their interviews. Although Turkey’s asylum regulation encourages asylum seekers to apply for work permits, very few asylum seekers or refugees have ever been granted such authorization.

The work permit process is both expensive and administratively complicated. Many look for illegal employment opportunities.

LGBTs are among the most marginalized and vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey today. The protections extended by the government of Turkey and UNHCR allow these individuals to escape the severe mistreatment, torture, and death they face in their countries of origin.

Unfortunately, their physical survival is often mired in new dangers and deprivations in Turkey. Some of these perils and threats stem from a dearth of resources at the local, national, and international levels. Others result from fear, lack of knowledge, and deeply-ingrained societal prejudices. These entities are often the mirror image of the grim and lamentable continuation seen in their country of origin.

Read more: Migration and Gender for Iranian LGBT

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