Unsafe Haven: Life and Death for LGBT Refugees

Alexia Tsagkari Istanbul, Leros, Kos, Athens

Shunned, abused, murdered. For many LGBT asylum seekers in Turkey and Greece, every day is a struggle for survival.

Ramtin, a gay refugee from Iran, waves an LGBT flag at a park in Istanbul. Photo: Alexia Tsagkari

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.

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