Trans in Türkiye: The UN ‘breathed life back into my dreams’

Trans in Türkiye: The UN ‘breathed life back into my dreams’

© IOM/Enver Mohammed Shiraz was referred to the migrant centre that provides comprehensive assistance to vulnerable individuals.

Human Rights

Shiraz, a 23-year-old trans woman from Alexandria, Egypt, attempted suicide when she was not accepted by her family. Today, with support from the UN migration agency (IOM), she sees a brighter future in her new home in Izmir, Türkiye.

At first glance, one would not notice the tumultuous journey that Shiraz has faced in order to find her place in the world. She is studying programming, and dreams of becoming a heart surgeon. She enjoys belly dancing, with her TikTok videos racking up thousands of views and likes.

However, the perceptive observer would notice scars on her arms, which silently reveal her story. 

“I first identified as a girl when I was a child,” she says. “I yearned to go to a school for girls.” 

Shiraz fled her hometown in Egypt in pursuit of greater freedom to be herself.

© IOM/Enver Mohammed

Shiraz fled her hometown in Egypt in pursuit of greater freedom to be herself.

Shiraz’s childhood revelation marked a shift in her life. Her conservative family, unable to comprehend her identity, responded with violence. Later, when she was a teenager, they subjected her to painful electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and convinced her that her identity was a mental disorder. 

“After a couple of sessions, I couldn’t take it anymore and attempted to commit suicide. I jumped from the third floor. I was rescued by people who gathered downstairs.” 

Enduring unimaginable torment, Shiraz failed to receive the necessary support. The difference between her real appearance and the one on her official identity documents made it challenging. 

For a while, she found sanctuary in the home of her grandmother – her only supporter – until she also faced threats of violence. Shiraz was left stranded on the streets.

It was then that she learned of an NGO helping people like her. Now, having the chance to reflect on her future, she considered the possibility of migrating. This marked the beginning of her journey to Türkiye. 

Scars on her Shiraz's arms tell a story of struggle.

© IOM/Olga Borzenkova

Scars on her Shiraz’s arms tell a story of struggle.

She first moved to Istanbul, then to Mersin in the south. Life was also not easy at the beginning, facing similar challenges, and seeking support and protection. 

“I was depressed. I never imagined returning to education.” 

Shiraz was referred by a local organization to the Mersin Migrant Municipal and Community Centre, run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in coordination with the Mersin Metropolitan Municipality, that provides comprehensive assistance to those in need – from psychosocial support to legal counselling and facilitation of essential paperwork. 

“It was IOM that breathed life back into my dreams,” she says. 

Over the past two years, the Centre has become a beacon of hope for Shiraz. She received much-needed psychosocial support and help with accommodation. The Centre further provided her translation support to obtain identity documents and helped her enrol in a university in Izmir. 

“I now study at the Programming Faculty, but I want to switch to medicine. I need to improve my Turkish for that,” she explains. “I want to become a heart surgeon, as it our hearts that often hurt. I want to help people.” 

Now in the pipeline for resettlement to a third country, Shiraz anticipates a new chapter in another country and is set to realize her dreams, “like every girl should.” Proficient in Arabic, German, English, French, and Spanish, she is confident in her ability to settle in her permanent home soon. 

The Municipal Migrant and Community Centre in Mersin, a part of IOM’s Protection and Resilience programming, is run in cooperation with the Mersin Metropolitan Municipality. It is one of six centres operating nationwide, which aims to provide needed assistance to migrants and refugees and build cohesion between communities. Support through the centres is made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. 

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