Trans refugee threatened with ‘illegal’ deportation by Turkish police freed after public outcry

A trans refugee who was illegally detained in Istanbul and threatened with unlawful deportation to Syria has thanked her supporters after being released by the Turkish police.

Sofia (not her real name), who arrived in Turkey with her family as a refugee aged 17, was released at midnight Turkish time on 6 August after growing public pressure following the publication of her story.

She had been arrested two weeks earlier on 23 July – the Eid celebration weekend – by police in Istanbul who were conducting an “illegal crackdown” on refugees.

According to the Aman Project, an Istanbul-based LGBT+ group that is supporting Sofia, she was illegally detained, incarcerated in a Turkish deportation centre and denied access to a lawyer.

After being released Sofia, now 23, gave a statement in Arabic translated by the group supporting her: “Thank you all for being in my life, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for being by my side in my most difficult circumstances, thank you for being, thanks to you, I am fine.

“You in all circumstances and times deserve all respect and appreciation because you deserve it well and I testify that you all were the bond, help and strength for me and more,” she added.

Trans refugee arrested during ‘illegal crackdown’

Sofia and her supporters feared she would be forced to sign so-called “voluntary return papers” and sent back to Syria.

While it’s against international and Turkish law to deport people to war zones, Turkish police have been known to forcibly return LGBT+ refugees by using threats of physical violence to make refugees sign the “voluntary” return papers.

Sofia’s lawyer, Fatih, said that the system the Turkish police use to deport Syrian refugees is “completely illegal”.

“Turkey has developed a system to send Syrian refugees back to Syria,” Fatih said in a statement. “This system is completely illegal.

“Firstly, they take refugees to the police station for trivial reasons. Then they send these people to the provinces of Turkey close to the border. When they go to these provinces, they make them sign a letter stating that they want to return to Syria voluntarily.

“It is illegal to keep Sofia in detention. It is also illegal to send Sofia to the border.”