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This was a bus ride like none I have ever taken. I have spent almost 5 hours traveling on narrow passes at high elevation, watching a picturesque landscape unfold, to get to the Turkish city of Kayseri. I am the only non-Turkish traveler on this double-decker bus, which seats over 70 passengers. No one on the bus speaks anything other than Turkish. I'm inconspicuous as long as I don't have to talk to people. But when the bus conductor comes to ask for my drink preference in Turkey bus conductors serve complementary snacks and drinks during the ride, just like how flight attendants used to take care of their customers on US domestic flights not so long ago , I am forced to speak in English.
All of a sudden, people start looking at me curiously, and a few young men follow me with their eyes, marking me, perhaps, as a gay man of Iranian origin, in a way that is quite discomforting. They continue watching me until I get to my final destination. This is not the easiest way to travel. But I intentionally chose to take a bus to this conservative town in central Turkey to experience what many gay refugees have to go through.
They must regularly travel back and forth between Kayseri, where they live, and Ankara, the Turkish capital, where the UN refugee agency UNHCR , and all refugee support facilities—from medical doctors to psychologists—are located. Kayseri is home to a group of gay men and lesbians who have fled Iran and are now waiting in Turkey to be resettled in a Western country.
The government of Turkey does not allow non-European refugees to stay in Turkey, and it is the responsibility of UNHCR to find a host country to take them in. Currently there are over 18, refugees in Turkey, some of whom have been waiting for over 2 years to be resettled elsewhere. While in Turkey, the authorities insist that refugees can only stay in one of 30 designated small cities.
While waiting for their asylum cases to proceed, the refugees find it impossible to get a legal job. Those who do not pay the fee may not leave Turkey for resettlement in another country. Asylum seekers also find it extremely difficult to gain access to medical treatment, a right to which they are technically entitled. It takes endless paperwork to obtain permission to visit a hospital free of charge and they are legally required to acquire a financial waver prior to every procedure they need.