Unsafe Haven: Life and Death for LGBT Refugees

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Unsafe Haven: Life and Death for LGBT Refugees

Alexia Tsagkari | Istanbul, Leros, Kos, Athens

Sandy knew right away the customer was dangerous. Most men who cruise Istanbul’s Taksim Square looking for sex tend to move around nervously or feign nonchalance. But this man had menace in his eyes.

“From his style, you could tell he had no money,” she recalled. “We warned her not to go with him. He looked suspicious. But she didn’t listen. She needed the cash.”

Sandy was standing in the same place in Taksim Square where she had watched her friend, Warda, follow the Turkish man into the Saturday night crowd six months earlier, on December 17, 2016. It was the last time she saw her alive.

Like Sandy, Warda was a transgender refugee from Syria. Both had fled war and persecution in search of a safe haven in Europe. They made it to Istanbul where, ostracised by locals and other refugees alike, they had to sell sex to survive.

“Three hours later we called her on her phone, but it was off,” Sandy said through tears, mascara running down her face. “So I went back home and found her covered in blood. I could barely recognise her.”

Sandy showed a picture of the murder scene on her cell phone. Warda was slumped on the floor with a huge gash in her side and lower back. The murderer had disembowelled her, slashed her throat and cut off her genitals.

“Eventually, the police came and took her body,” Sandy said. “We wanted to give her a proper funeral, but they wouldn’t let us. She was buried like a dog.”

Warda was 30, the same age as Sandy. Her final resting place is a cemetery on the eastern outskirts of Istanbul where wildflowers grow by her unmarked grave.

When Sandy contacted Warda’s relatives in Syria after her death, they said she had brought shame on the family. They did not allow the cemetery to put up a headstone.

Warda, seen in a snapshot on a friend’s cell phone, was murdered in Istanbul on December 17, 2016. Photo: Alexia Tsagkari


Read the full article on Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence >>>

Alexia Tsagkari is a freelance reporter and video journalist based in Athens. This article was produced as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, supported by the ERSTE Foundation and Open Society Foundations, in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.