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Story Publication logo October 6, 2022

I Am Not Your Refugee: From All Over: LGBTQ Türkiye


Illustration of a girl holding a small wooden house, inside of which is a flame. Text reads, 'not your refugee.'

Podcast series created in collaboration with journalists, artists and activists with direct lived...

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Hear from members of the refugee LGBTQ community in Turkey, here to talk about their group From All Over

Two LGBTQ refugees in Yalova, Türkiye, Mehdi and Nihal, are setting up their own group, From All Over. Bairbre Flood met them at their home to see why they need this group, and what life is like for LGBTQ refugees outside of Istanbul.

Presenter Mahmoud Hassino also shares some of his personal experiences helping to organise a Mr Gay Syria event which was documented in a film by Turkish director Ayse Toprak.

Presented by Mahmoud Hassino and produced by Bairbre Flood.

Theme music by Omar Alkilani. Artwork by Haya Halaw.

With thanks to the Pulitzer Center for funding support.


Mahmoud Hassino: Hi, I'm Mahmoud Hassino and you're listening to 'I Am Not Your Refugee', a podcast created by myself and Bairbre Flood in collaboration with some of the refugee community organisers, activists and artists working to challenge stereotypes around migration. With thanks to the Pulitzer Center for funding support.

Today, our reporter Bairbre Flood talks to Mehdi and Nihal who are setting up a group called From All Over, for LGBT refugees in Yalova, Türkiye, where they currently live.

But first, I would like to share with some of my personal experiences. As a Syrian gay man, Istanbul’s Pride was the only Pride event I could join. Istanbul was a haven for LGBT people coming from Türkiye’s neighbouring countries, where homosexuality is criminalised. In 2014, a group of Syrian LGBT people started a group called Tea and Talk to help LGBT Arabic speakers navigate their way in Türkiye and in Istanbul. With the help of that group, I organised a Mr Gay Syria event in Istabul. The aim was to send a Syrian delegate to Mr Gay World contest, hoping to represent the LGBT refugee community in Türkiye, but the refugee Mr Gay Syria was denied the Schengen visa to Malta, where Mr Gay World contest took place that year.

That journey was documented in a film by Turkish director Aysa Toprak along with the recent crackdowns by Turkish authorities on pride marches in Istanbul. Since I left, there’ve been even more restrictions placed on the movement of refugees within different areas in Türkiye - despite the great work of groups like ‘Tea and Talk’ and others. Outside of Istanbul it can be more difficult to live as an LGBT refugee. Bairbre Flood visited Mehdi and Nihal at their home in Yalova - over an hour by ferry away from Istanbul - to find out about life in today’s Türkiye as an LGBT refugee and what they hope to achieve with their new group…

Mehdi: You have 2000 people in Yalova are gay. You have bisexual, you have gay, you have transgender and you have transsexual in Yalova. You found from Iran from Iraq, from Syria, from Morocco, Tunisia from Yemen. You have from where... to...have from Libya you can found here yeah. A lot of people gay in Yalova, yes.

Bairbre Flood: How do they find it? I mean in terms of getting work and that kind of thing?

Mehdi: No, they can't work. It's impossible. Some people their family knows about their sexuality. They sent to him money for living. And some people know the transgender and the transsexual, they take the government give him money every month, maybe 1000 Lira. But not for gay just for transgender and for transsexual.

Bairbre Flood: Yes, it's just for the rent.

Mehdi: Just for this and they can't work. No. It's impossible. Turkish people who live in Yalova go to Istanbul for looking for a job. But for us, it's difficult. My friend, she's name is Nehal. She's from Iran. And one time she postul a job in one hotel, I don't remember hotel or restaurant. And they need staff, she called them and they told her okay, you can come and when they go to the place and they see her 'No, no, no, no, sorry. We can't accept you. We have staff now''. And when he see her because she's trans, nobody accepts her. She has to two doctorate, she's intellectual but she don't work. She has 1000 lira, by month for rent, for bills, and for food. No, it's difficult.

One time I don't accept my life, because I found a job in French embassy but the government in Yalova don't give me the authorization for going to Istanbul so I lose this job. And next time I found the job in Arabian, Saudia embassy and the government don't give me an authorization to go to Istanbul and the third time time and it's the last, I found a job in Netflix. And by day they paid me. He told me his name is Giovanni. He told me I pay you 4000 lira by day, so they don't give me an authorization. So in this time, I tried to kill myself.

I don't found an open door, every door are closed especially Netflix because I like to be...I like to theatre, I like to be an actor. I like to stand up. I like to make people laughing. It's my it's my doping but when they refuse to give me an authorization, it's enough for me really. It's a big prison. Here is big prison.

So in Yalova and I can go in another place, to another city and if I found a job in Yalova, I must to have an authorization for working. And they don't give an authorization for working. One woman she worked to the government, she told me I don't give you an authorization to go to Istanbul. If you go to Istanbul without organisation, I block and I stopped your ID.

All my life I live like homeless. When I was four and a half years old, I live like homeless. So one time you know, when I was hungry, I see a big picture of pizza. And because I was hungry and this is true,

Bairbre Flood: You licked the picture?

Mehdi: Yes, I licked the picture. And one time, when I was cold I see, you know the building, you see the window with family there. Sometimes I see I said I want to be like him. It's like that. People, when he want something, I can see that in her eyes, their eyes, pardon. For example, Nihal, she cried. I say what happened? Nothing but I see the bill there. When I see that bill , 9000 Lira. I told her 'Do you pay the bill for electricity'? She told me no. Now when she paid the bill, now she sleep good, really.

Yes, it's double pain. The pain, maybe triple pain. The first pain, you lose your family because nobody accepts you. The second pain, you come here in this country and nobody accepts you and the third pain nobody helped you. Yeah, and maybe the fourth pain, everybody don't help you so what you think; oh, so I am wrong person.

Nihal: {Speaks in Turkish}

Mehdi: Which language to speak?

Bairbre Flood: What's easiest Turkish? Yeah, so ye can understand.

Nihal: {speaks Turkish}

Mehdi: She said my name is Nihal. I am from Iran. I'm a transexual from Iran. I have 33 years old. I come to Turkey three and half years ago.

Nihal: {speaks Turkish}

Mehdi: She said it's difficult to live here because nobody rent you flat. Don't find a work, she don't live anywhere because nobody accepts transexual in Turkey. It's very difficult. Yeah. And also, neighbours don't like trans. When they see them, for example, they do a problem, big problem.

Nihal: {speaks Turkish}

Mehdi: She said she has two master, two masters sorry. One master of management, international management and the second master of psychology. She wants a doctorate but Iran government don't give her an okay because she's trans.

Nihal: {speaks Turkish}

Mehdi: She said I drink, drugs for psychology thing. And when Mehdi come, I'm always alone, I'm always sick. But when Mehdi comes, he comes, he clean. I feel better than before.

Nihal: {speaks Turkish}

Mehdi: She said, yes, in Yalova our life is very difficult. So every gay people or trans people they must do have a friend like Mehdi because sometimes she has problem and she forgot when I am here. And every people here in Yalova, they must do have the same friend like...

Bairbre Flood: ...the same support.

Mehdi: Yeah.

Bairbre Flood: ...If everyone could have a Medhi!

Nihal: {speaks Turkish}

Mehdi: She said she hoped for LGBT community who live in Turkey, especially trans, they go out of Turkey, for example in Europe. Because she escaped from Iran - it's too difficult. And she found the same government, Iran or Turkey are the same thing. So she hoped then leave Turkey out to another country. She hoped this for her and for our LGBT community here in Turkey

Nihal: {speaks Turkish}

Mehdi: She said I want to talk something that we don't said it because I know. She said refugee it's problem here. They can't live here. And the trans they can't live here but she's trans and refugees. Is two problem for her to live here, not just for her, for all trans in Türkiye. The refugee foreigner in Türkiye is big problem for them to live here.

Bairbre Flood: Thank you so much. Thank you Nihal. Thanks for translating.

Mehdi: You know the story of Harvey Milk? I like this guy because he wants to do something to his life. But he can't do anything. So he do something for another life. Yeah, for me, he's good because he has two lives. His life and another life. He saved it. Yeah, I want to do something like that. Yeah. My group 'From All Over'. Yeah, from all over. Because we are the same hand. Yeah, I like this name. And then I like to help another guy.

One guy here, his mother are in debt. He is from Morocco. And he cried a lot. And he can't call his family because nobody accept him. And he can't go to the funeral because he hasn't money for the ticket. Yes, I want to do something.

The first of all, I want to make people happy because I had a sad life. I want to make people happy. I want to do a group. It's like, it's like a family. We had the same flag. It's like we are all family. I want to do this group for helping people who need money. Only the medicaments for example, who need rent a room or buy something - I want to do that. Yeah. I have my door, give me just the key. I can open it with myself. Yeah, I have my door. They want us to open it, so help me for opening it, give me your key.

Mahmoud Hassino: That was Mehdi and Nihal, two members of the LGBT community in Yalova, Türkiye who are setting up their own group - ‘From All Over’ - to support others in their community. As Nihal told Bairbre, Trans people suffer the most. I worked for seven years with LGBTIQ people in Berlin, Germany. Although Berlin has a shelter for queer asylum seekers since 2016, Trans asylum seekers and refugees still suffer in other parts in Germany. I have heard many horrifying stories over the years. Trans people who had the courage to cross the Mediterranean to Greece suffered physical and sexual assaults on the way. The EU-Türkiye deal of 2016 ensures the return of anyone who’s caught by the Greek coastguard. So, if you’ve any ideas for support or want to connect with the group please contact us here on the show - we’d love to link them in with more people - and see where this might go.

Thanks for listening, from producer Bairbre Flood, and myself, Mahmoud Hassino. Thanks to Omar AlKilani who wrote and performed our theme music.

Tune in next episode when activists from The Syrian Greek Youth Forum sit down with Bairbre in Athens to talk about creativity and active citizenship. See you then! With thanks to the Pulitzer Center for funding support.






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