Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Unsafe Haven?: Standing Out in Kayseri

From Hurriyet Daily News via the Associated Press:
A trickle of gays and lesbians have made their way out of Iran — most through neighboring Turkey, which doesn't require Iranians to obtain a visa. Currently, 92 Iranian homosexuals have refugee status in the country, according to Saghi Ghahraman, director of the Toronto-based Iranian Queer Organization, which tracks homosexuals fleeing Iran.

Many are placed by the Turkish government in Kayseri and nearby towns, where they form a precarious community, overshadowed by a larger influx of thousands of Iranians fleeing the political crackdown since June's disputed presidential election. In this conservative region of Turkey, they try to lay low, fearing harassment as they wait in hopes of resettlement.

"Police here tell us to stay indoors when we report violence against us," said Roodabeh Parvaresh, a 32-year-old lesbian who has been in Turkey for over two years.

Parvaresh, a nurse, said even staff at a human rights organization that is supposed to care for refugees told her, "'Don't make a fuss, you're already enough in the public eye.' Why? Because I am lesbian."

Another lesbian, Hengameh, who refused to give her full name to avoid publicity, said she was severely beaten by two Turkish youths soon after arriving in the country a year ago.

Still, Turkey provides an escape from their lives in Iran, where homosexuals can face threats from every direction — from the state, from co-workers or security officials who harass them or try to blackmail them into sexual favors.
Though life may be better in Turkey than Iran, the choice of Kayseri for re-settlement, as I have written before, is a bit bizarre. Conspicuous in these small cities, Iranian gays and other refugees have been targeted by Iranian security forces. From my Feb. 13 post:
And, another aspect of discrimination against Iranian refugees that has come to my attention involves gay Iranian asylum seekers who the Turkish government has re-located in the conservative central Anatolian town of Kayseri, no doubt a bizarre choice. According to Hossein Alizadeh,
While in Turkey, the authorities insist that refugees can only stay in one of 30 designated small cities. These locations are assigned based on the asylum seeker’s nationality, gender, age, and reason for seeking asylum.

. . . .

In a society where job opportunities are rare and financial resources are limited, refugees usually encounter public hostility. But for LGBT refugees, the picture is particularly frightening. Gay people, especially in more conservative areas, are perceived to be moral degenerates who will destroy social cohesion and promote prostitution. In this context, many view gay refugees as the “bottom of the barrel”—the public (and unfortunately sometimes the authorities) see them as parasites who not only suck blood from their host’s body, but who will fatally damage this body if left unchecked. For this reason, some “concerned citizens,” and occasionally local law enforcement agents, take it upon themselves to continuously intimidate gay refugees to make their lives as unpleasant as possible.

For LGBT refugees in Turkey, this is the daily struggle they must contend with: away from family and friends, with painful memories of persecution and harassment in their native country, they are now unwelcome strangers, living in extreme poverty, isolation and hopelessness, waiting for what feels like an eternity to find out if any country on the planet will give them a chance to live like human beings.
Alizadeh also documents difficulties all refugees in Turkey face, and gives their total number at 18,000 (as of June 2009), and I assume this number includes only those who have filed applications with the UNHCR. I have no idea how many are Iranians, and the number has no doubt increased following this summer's unrest. See also Alizadeh's June 11, 2009 post and this story from Voice of America.
See also this report from Oram International.

Approximately 1,5000 Iranians have entered Turkey in transit to other locations since the turmoil in Iran last June. From an op/ed in Today's Zaman by Recep Korkut, a social worker with the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD):
Some of them file petitions seeking asylum, while others try to obtain student visas in order to reach Western countries.
Iranian asylum-seekers cannot earn refugee status in Turkey due its geographical reservation to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, and therefore, they are subjected to the practice of being sent to third countries. Iranian refugees in Turkey are involved in some of the asylum and protection procedures conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in cooperation with the Turkish authorities during their stay in Turkey. They have to fulfill certain criteria required for refugees so that they can be placed in third countries. Interviews with these asylum seekers are conducted, and those who cannot satisfy the basic refugee criteria -- fearing persecution due to his/her race, language, nationality, affiliation with a particular social group or political views or being afforded no protection by the country of citizenship -- are declined, and if the appeal process does not change this, they may be sent back to Iran.
According to Korkut, Iranians make up 22 percent of refugees in Turkey. His entire piece provides a brief history of Iranian refugees in Turkey, as well as a profile of who is seeking asylum and a brief portrait of the limited protection they receive in Turkey.

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