” It was my only chance for a normal life without baiting, hiding and so on”
Door Iryna Troskot
I can imagine that scene more than clear. These two young women, who met at the entrance to the Ter Apel – the main center for the refugees in the Nederland. One of the women had cigarettes, another had lighter. They were both almost the same age, about 23 years old, both just arrived from Turkey and didn’t have somebody to talk to frankly during their non-touristy trip to Europe. The taller woman with a long red hair is Elifnaz. She speaks English good and has an ambition to continue her studying at university. Another woman called Berna is a nice person with a short haircut and an inquisitive look. Berna doesn’t speak English good, so Elifnaz will help with the translation. Berna is a lesbian, and she has just got the opportunity to speak freely about her identity. Berna is a bit nervous even now, so I try to imagine, how did she feel herself near the wall of shelter in Ter Apel. So far I can see her a bit scared, but even more excited.
At first glance it may seem that Turkey solves the question of the rights for LGBTI people rather successfully. The same-sex relations are allowed by the state constitution and Turkey became the first muslim-majority country in which the gay parade march took place. It happened in 2003, and until 2014 Istanbul pride attracted more than 100,000 people. But in a few next years pride parades were banned by the local authorities, and participants were faced with a police attacks. Leading European LGBTI rights organization ILGA-Europe says that Turkey’s LGBTI movement has experienced «another escalation of an ongoing attack from state institutions against the LGBTI community». Society mostly supports Erdogan’s policies. According to Ipsos research in 2021 only 33% citizen in Turkey support LGBTI.
When Berna finished her studying at the university, she couldn’t work legally by her qualification as a physical teacher. The only work the woman found was in a Starbucks, because it’s a private company. She had to hide her sexual orientation from people around, including her parents. Even now they neither know that she moved to the Netherlands as a refugee, nor about the reason. All she does now is haram (a term used in Arabic for anything that is specifically forbidden) for them. «I would like, but I cannot change people’s mind», Berna says.
Berna tried to get Schengen visa legally for more than a year. The procedure is rather difficult and it needs a lot of documents and insurances that the person will come back. For example, a sponsorship letter explaining the reason of the visit. After several failures she took a desperate step to cross the border illegally. «I knew it was very dangerous, but it was my only chance for a normal life without baiting, hiding and so on». The only close person who knew Bernas adventure were her younger sister.
Illegal trip costed 5000 euro. With no safety guarantee included. «When I remember those days now, it’s still scary at the thought of what could have been done to me in the worst case scenario», the woman says. Her first route had been by the plane to the Macedonia, then they took her taxi to the Belgrade. In addition, it was a journey in the back of the truck. «I don’t even remember how many people there were and how long we left. It seems to have lasted 2-3 days, although at that time I thought I was leaving for several months». On September 1, 2022, Berna had stood in front of the Ter Apel’s door. She had a lighter and no cigarettes.
I’m looking at Berna and cannot imagine her in the back of the truck with many other illegal refugees. «Berna was lucky that where was no room in Ter Apel to accept her», says Elifnaz. In many camps for refugees, where the majority are Syrians, Algerians, Moroccans, etc., there are cases when they brutally beat people. LGBT+ is haram for them.
I ask Berna what are her dream about. She freezes for a moment and then finally shows me a relaxed smile. «My main dream is to life safety, to live without fair. To work freely as a teacher. To get married and to have children. One child».
Just as I imagine this young woman at the wall of the Ter Apel, I also see her as a busy and happy mother, with a very simple life that does not have to be hidden from others because of the fear. Berna says, that here, in Thuis in Oss, she at least feels safe.