Imagine being an ex-Muslim for a moment, named “Amy” (an anonymous name).
This is all based on a real, recent story. One that is ongoing for a 24-year-old young woman from Yemen, who currently lives in Turkey. Amy is an ex-Muslim. Like many ex-Muslims, her story is not uncommon and can be claimed as one sector of the non-religious population subjected to horrendous abuse and disownment by family and community simply for exercising their fundamental human rights to freedom of belief and freedom of religion. It is within their rights and part of their conscience that they do not share the beliefs of their family and community, by and large, and consider themselves ex-Muslims: apostates.
The questions then arise about what this means for the people who do not have a means by which to escape desperate circumstances based on religion. It could be on any number of matters, mind you, but the religious angle cannot be ignored because it is such an integral and important part of so many people’s lives around the world. As Islam is the second major world religion by the global population, behind Christianity by tens of millions, the consideration of the growing and vocal movement, in and out of Muslim majority countries, of ex-Muslims is important.
Amy is a black woman from a persecuted group in Yemen. A grouping that is systematically discriminated against in the country and openly called “Akhdam” or servants. Amy is one among that increasing population of vocal, but at times fearful, collective around the world known as ex-Muslims. In a sense, they are religion-rejecting diaspora. Other parts of Yemen refer to people of her skin color as slaves, as a direct reference to skin color.
She found the life in Yemen to be too dangerous and hopeless for her. She would daily hear insults based on the color of her skin in addition to having the very real risk of her father discovering that she did not adhere to the beliefs of Islam. She was an apostate in the closet. Yemen, according to Amy, is controlled by Islamist groups – or politically motivated versions of Islam – who would kill anyone wanting to or desiring to reform Islam. This is even a concern apart from wanting to leave Islam.
Her parents divorced, after which she lived with her mother. The mother’s (of Amy) husband and she have 6 children. Her own father maintains an Islamic mentality, which she considers common. The dad, apparently, reported Amy’s disappearance to the Yemeni police and then told them that she has secular ideas and values. She was studying mass communication at the University of Sana’a. However, prior to finishing her degree – right before, she had to flee Yemen.
Now, she lives in Turkey. However, she is under a particular level of duress with traveling to the country illegally, which came with a jail sentence of 4 months within the deportation center. They have tried to deport her back to Yemen several times. She refused to be deported. After 4 months, they released her with some papers, which only made her official for 15 days. She then went to Istanbul to continue the necessary procedure for procurement of residency and acquisition of official papers for guaranteeing a legal stay in Turkey.
Amy said, “I have tried so many times to get permission to stay in Turkey but Istanbul has rejected me, actually the employee there told me that I should leave Turkey and go back to Yemen, ‘You are not welcome here.’ Now, my existence in Turkey is illegal because the 15 days period to finish procedures has ended.”
She continued to state how she is financially broken and has made formal contact with the Yemeni Community Executive Director for assistance. However, he cannot do anything about it. She continued, “I have also told him that I need work and a place to stay. He said, ‘They have accommodation for Yemeni girls but we can’t accept you. Because you don’t wear Hijab.’ Of course, they did not provide me a job either. I have managed to borrow some money from people and rented an apartment. But without getting a job, how can I pay the rent every month?”
Amy is a desperate situation for a young woman of only 24. She is trying extremely hard to find some work anywhere, but she cannot as easily as other people within Turkey. The reason for this is the language barrier. Amy only knows a little bit of Turkish while also being completely isolated, alone, and in a state of utter desperation.
“I went to an NGO Called ASAM that is in partnership with UNCHR, but they told me to go to the UNCHR in Ankara. But I do not have the money to go theirs, and also I know that UNCHR only going to make it difficult for me,” Amy explained, “because after applying in UNCHR I will be forced to leave to a new city determined by the government of Turkey, but I do not have the money to go to any city and not gonna be able to rent an apartment again.”
She described how this would make it hard for her to get a job in the new city, which is where she is being asked to go to. The UNCHR does not help with money or accommodations. Then she later had to flee and hide because of the fear of being taken from Turkey and deported to Yemen. The fate for Amy would be an honor killing, as this socio-cultural-religious brand of Islam is an honor culture.
She wants to leave and actually complete her postsecondary degree. Amy wants to specialize as an asylum lawyer with a focus on women’s rights in order to help her seek asylum in any country. However, she, and many others like her, need help to leave Turkey.
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