LGBTI/ENPovertyRight To Shelter

Women, LGBTI+’s and refugees in Mersin on the axe of shelter problem

Rojda Öncel

Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.

Mersin University Mechanical Engineering student Halil Can, trans woman Öykü, and Nadina, who lives in a refugee camp in Mersin, talked about their experiences with accommodation.

When we look at the housing problem from Mersin, we come across the words of Governor Ali Hamza Pehlivan, “We have taken the necessary measures to ensure that none of our students have a housing problem.” However, as a result, thousands of students were left without a dormitory in Mersin. Instead, students were forced to live in dark houses, miles away from the university, where rent was four thousand Turkish liras.

Many students had to take a break from school. One of them is a student whose family lives in Konya and cannot get a quota for KYK dormitories. He said that even if the student gets a quota, he will not stay in Mersin; Therefore, he could not go to school.

The economic crisis, which is deepening each day, first took the time we allotted for ourselves. When not at school, we have to work at jobs for 10 Turkish liras per hour. We can’t go to a movie, a play, a concert, or dine out. While we couldn’t imagine a worse situation, we became unable to meet our basic needs. We have to rethink twice when we buy a loaf of bread from a market. We prayed to be able to stay in dormitories whose conditions are against human rights. We paid thousands of Turkish liras for basic accommodation. These are the common problems of students studying in Mersin and even all over Turkey. 

Mersin University Mechanical Engineering student Halil Can, trans woman Öykü, and Nadina, who lives in a refugee camp in Mersin, talked about their experiences with accommodation.

“If I can’t find a place to stay, university will be nothing but a dream”

Explaining his experiences from receiving the news of acceptance to Mersin University to encountering the sky-high rents, Mersin University Mechanical Engineering student Halil Can say that he would have to give up his university education if he could not find a place to stay:

“I was thrilled when I saw that I was placed at Mersin University. The idea of ​​studying in a new city, away from my family, and trying to stand on my own feet, was quite exciting. However, my excitement was a little broken when I learned that I couldn’t get to stay in the KYK dormitory.

“Since I have never had the experience of living in a rental, I did not know how high were the house rents. So I took a few of my stuff with me and came to Mersin to look for a house. I never knew I would encounter something like this. The places I look at are at least three thousand Turkish liras. So how could a parent who tries to make a living on minimum wage be able to pay for their kid’s education?

“I have been sleeping on the beach bench for five days. I visit at least two or three houses every day. I have nowhere to go; the weather will get cold, and the streets will become unsafe. I don’t want to take shelter in a congregation-owned dormitory because I know the people who caused Enes Kara’s suicide. I do not know what to do.

“I tried to contact the governor’s office and the municipality, who said, “We will solve the housing problems of our students,” and got no reply. So I wonder whose housing problem is solved in Mersin. If I can’t find a place to stay this week, I will return to my family, and university education will be nothing but a dream for me.” So I have a few words to say to those who try to fool us with their lies and those who make us live this way: We will not forget any of this, and one day we will get back everything you stole from us.”

“Because I am a trans woman, I cannot find a job; I cannot find a house; I cannot study”

Trans woman Öykü told about the discrimination she faced due to her sexual identity while she tried to find a place to live:

“My life has always been difficult because of my trans identity. I fled my parents’ house at an early age and started working when I was a minor. I wanted to be able to begin my gender-affirming process; to do so, I put aside my dream of a university education and worked in tough jobs. I postponed school, but my love of education never ended. I tried to live against the transphobia organized daily through all the channels of the AKP.

“I got accepted to Mersin University in 2021. I traveled all over Mersin for days to rent a house with the money I had saved for years. Since I am a trans woman, I cannot stay in a dormitory. So I thought the best option would be to stay in an apartment, but because I am a trans woman, no one rents me a house. I applied everywhere and tried everything. There is no door I have not knocked on. So finally, I temporarily moved into one of my friend’s place, who is a sex worker and lives far from school. I don’t know how long this will continue. I want to ask those who do not allow us to do sex work, those who declare us immoral and perverse: Did you leave us another chance to survive? I can’t find a job; I can’t find a house; I can’t study because I’m a trans woman. I can’t live. We can’t live.

I commemorate Eylül Cansın, who had to end her life by saying, “I couldn’t live because people didn’t allow it,” I say we will get back the lives you stole from us. Trans suicides are political!”

“Let alone the internet access; we couldn’t access the toilet or shower in the refugee camp”

Nadina told us how difficult to follow classes from a refugee camp, even after the university opened its doors:

“I lost my family in the war. I was cut off from my home, country, friends, and everything. I say cut off because I didn’t come to this country willingly. I fled the war. I wouldn’t be able to live if I stayed.

“Our first stop with my relatives was Hatay. Then we came to Mersin. Since none of us had refugee status, we had no rights.

“Amidst all these terrible things, I got to be placed at Mersin University. For the first time in five years, I was happy. 2020 was my first year at school, and all classes were online. In the camp where I live, we couldn’t access the toilet or shower, let alone the internet. I could not apply to the KYK dormitory, and my other Syrian friends who applied also did not get to stay in the dormitory.

“My relatives and I decided to rent a house. As eleven people, we shared the same place. I had to leave two hours early to go to school. I applied for the dormitory in 2022 but couldn’t get it again. I don’t even know how to reach my right to live humanly, such as to have a right to education, shelter, and health, and I don’t know how to get help from whom.

Even though the war is over, I don’t know what to do because I have no home to return to. I found myself in a struggle for life without being able to mourn my family. I don’t know when this survival fight will end.”

“We will disperse the filthy and gloomy air you have created”

The need for shelter is not limited to four walls and a roof. But nowadays, even being able to live in any house or dormitory has become something that is only dreamed of. The housing problem has become a crisis that affects everyone, especially students, women, LGBTI+s, refugees, Kurds, and those trying to support a family on minimum wage. While the crisis deepens, it also creates various resistance forms. 

We Can’t Find Shelter protests, which started in September 2021, can be an excellent example.

The students who could not shelter constituted the strength and activism of the We Can’t Find Shelter Movement. As a result of this movement, in which the students’ voice was heard without any intermediary, street and park vigils began in many parts of Turkey. As the movement spread, we realized our strength. You can no longer scare young people who have nothing to lose. Like we did yesterday, we will disperse the filthy and gloomy air you created today.

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