Trans refugee in danger of being deported to Syrian war zone amid Turkey’s ‘illegal crackdown’
A young trans woman who fled to Turkey as a teenager is at risk of being forcibly deported to Syria after Turkish police conducted an “illegal crackdown”.
The move against a trans refugee comes as abuse and restrictions against Turkey’s LGBT+ population grow increasingly more alarming.
Sofia* (not her real name), 23, arrived in Turkey with her family when she was 17 after facing persecution in Syria for being trans.
She continued to face abuse in Turkey for being “too feminine” and was thrown out of the family home by her brothers when she was 21, going to the UNHCR and registering as a vulnerable refugee before being housed in a male hostel where she was beaten and faced harassment from the police.
On 23 July 2021, she was arrested over the Eid celebration weekend by police in Istanbul who were conducting an “illegal crackdown” on refugees.
According to the Aman Project, an Istanbul-based LGBT+ group that is supporting Sofia, she has been illegally detained, incarcerated in a Turkish deportation centre and denied access to a lawyer.
“As a transgender or gender-fluid person, Sofia is in constant danger of violence in a male prison, and even more so if she is deported back to Syria,” the Aman Project said in a statement, adding: “In 2019 a trans refugee from our community was forced over the border, and fell into the hands of a militia group, and has not been heard of since.”
Turkey has ‘completely illegal’ system of deporting refugees
Sofia and her supporters fear that she will be forced to sign “voluntary return papers” and sent back to Syria. While it’s against international and Turkish law to deport people to war zones, Turkish police have been known to forcibly return LGBT+ refugees by using threats of physical violence to make refugees sign the “voluntary” return papers.
Sofia’s lawyer, Fatih – who hasn’t been allowed to see her since she was arrested nearly two weeks ago – said that the system the Turkish police use to deport Syrian refugees is “completely illegal”.
“Turkey has developed a system to send Syrian refugees back to Syria,” Fatih said in a statement. “This system is completely illegal.
“Firstly, they take refugees to the police station for trivial reasons. Then they send these people to the provinces of Turkey close to the border. When they go to these provinces, they make them sign a letter stating that they want to return to Syria voluntarily. It is illegal to keep Sofia in detention. It is also illegal to send Sofia to the border.”
Sofia expects to be transferred to a Turkish border region this week, according to the Aman Project.
Speaking through a translator, she told the group that other detainees had reported that they had experienced physical intimidation until they signed the voluntary return papers. Sofia does not want to sign a voluntary return but she fears being beaten because of pre-existing facial injuries stemming from abuse in Syria.
The Aman Project added: “A human life is literally at risk here. We call on the international media to help highlight Sofia’s case, and prevent all refugees being illegally forced back to a war zone.”