HIDING TO SURVIVE
WOMAN IN TURKEY
Mary left Iraq to save her life. After two vicious attacks in Baghdad left her a prisoner in her own home, she fled to safety in Turkey – where the government forced her to stay in a mid-sized city dominated by conservative Muslims. She has already been attacked and is at risk each time she goes out in public. Trans people are routinely killed in the Middle East. Smart and talented, Mary deserves better.
Who we're sponsoring: Mary, a 24-year-old Iraqi trans refugee
Her situation: A life of hiding and survival in Turkey
The opportunity: Private sponsorship to Canada.
Fundraising goal: $18,000 is required for her settlement in Canada.
Her advantages: University education, a strong will.
For as far back as she can remember, Mary has thought of herself as female – and was dressing that way, in secret, from the age of five. Baghdad is a tough and often lethal city for trans and gay people, and Mary had to keep her true self a secret through elementary and high school.
By university, her feminine appearance – long hair, nails, her way of walking – was under dangerous public scrutiny. The first attack happened on June 10, 2016, when a group of strangers in a white van tried to kidnap her, and after chasing her down the street, threw a bottle of sand at her, narrowly missing her eyes.
In November, it was a piece of wood thrown by an assailant on a bike.
On April 15, 2017, while she was preparing for her final university exams (she earned a bachelor in engineering), a stranger tried to drag her into his car, and in the process, beat her badly, leaving wounds on her body that took months to heal. The scars remain to this day.
“I could not file a complaint to the police because I know that they would turn on me, and hold me responsible for my rejection by society. I would be arrested and imprisoned on charges of homosexuality.”
By 2017, it was too dangerous for Mary to go outside. She spent the year at home, preparing for her final exams. She was bullied at university and often had to skip her classes.
“I became very tired and exhausted physiologically, I did not have a normal college life due to loneliness, isolation and others not wanting to come near me.”
The Turning Point
A pivotal day in her life was October 10, 2017, when she graduated from the college of engineering, and decided it was time to share her story with her mother. Rather than accepting the obvious, her mother rejected her, saying that Mary was going against Islam and her own culture.
Her older sister, who could have been a source of support, instead encouraged her mother to kick her out of the house. She said that Mary did not deserve to live, and was threatening her own chances of making a good marriage. She threatened to tell Mary’s secret to their uncle and other relatives, and said that if she stayed in the house any longer, she would send people to kidnap and burn her to death.
On September 9, 2018, while at the supermarket, Mary was confronted by members of a militia group. They pointed their knives at her, and said,
“If you stay like this, with this attitude, we will kill you because you are a disgrace to everybody, to society and the religion of Islam.”
She knew this was no idle threat. Her own father had been killed by sectarian militia in 2004, when she was 9 years old.
Having spent months at home, trying and failing to find a job - she would be arrested and deported if she were discovered working - and dealing with depression, exhaustion and suicidal thoughts, Mary knew it was time to leave. She asked her mother for help in leaving the country and her mother refused.
Flight to Turkey
On March 2, 2019, Mary used whatever savings she had to fly from Baghdad to Istanbul, Turkey. On April 4, she had her interview with Turkish immigration for her kimlik, a sort of social security ID that is given out, in the case of refugees, as a way to both register and control their movements.
She was assigned to a mid-sized town south of Istanbul, known for its high Arabic-speaking population and religious conservatism. Once again, she’s scared to walk the streets – and has already been mocked in grocery stores, and had cigarettes thrown at her by strangers.
She cannot work, and is focused on surviving, and spends most of her time in hiding to stay safe.
This is now way for her to live.
There is Hope
A group of private citizens in Toronto - including Halla Abdulwahab and Stephen Watt - have teamed up to bring Mary to a better life. Before we can submit an application, we need to confirm to the Canadian government that we have funds placed in a secure account to support her first 12 months of life in Canada.
Mary is a hard-working university graduate, and would make a wonderful and talented addition to this country. We are building the team of sponsors to bring Mary to Canada. If you would like to join, please contact Stephen Watt by email or Facebook.
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