‘It’s not legal’: UN stands by as Turkey deports vulnerable Syrians

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08/23/2019

When summer began, Ward’s* biggest worry was her sick boyfriend. A Syrian with a gentle voice, and all her identity documents in order, Ward thought she could convince doctors in Istanbul, where she lived, to see her boyfriend, another refugee, without papers. Instead, the hospital alerted the police, who came and arrested them both. Days later, Ward made a panicked phone call from Binkilic deportation centre on the outskirts of Istanbul to a hotline operated by refugee rights activists to tell them she was about to be deported. Ward, who is a transgender woman, was legally residing in Istanbul and had been assigned a UNHCR protection officer who specialises in cases of LGBT refugees. While detained in a cell full of men, she feared a worse fate could befall her in Syria. Ward contacted friends who contacted UNHCR, and a legal aid counsellor was dispatched. But they were too late – she was deported the next day. Less than 100 metres after crossing the border, Ward was taken by HTS security officers. “They humiliated her after finding videos of her with men on her phone, and asked her why she shaved her arms and legs,” says Kenan Shami, who was with Ward for the 20-hour bus ride to the border.

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