Finding Freedom to be Herself: Shiraz’s Odyssey to Türkiye and Beyond 

Shiraz is so much more than her status as a migrant. 

She is ambitious. She is transgender. She enjoys belly dancing, studies programming and dreams of becoming a heart surgeon. Despite her vibrant persona, however, the scars on Shiraz’s arms silently reveal her struggle to find acceptance.  


A woman holds a brochure with a series of scars appearing on her arms
Photo: IOM/Olga Borzenkova 

Originally from Alexandria, Egypt, Shiraz knew she was different from an early age. 

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

Her conservative family, unable to comprehend her identity, responded with violence. Later, in Shiraz’s teenage years, 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 suicide. I jumped from the third floor.”  

Shiraz miraculously survived but continued to endure unimaginable torment, failing to receive necessary support. The difference between her physical appearance and the one on her official identity documents exacerbated her struggle. She attempted to change her gender legally but failed to complete the process.  

After facing threats of violence and rejection from her family, she sought support from an NGO helping people like her find safety abroad – and so began her journey to Türkiye.  

Shiraz first moved to Istanbul, then to Mersin in the south. Life was also not easy at the beginning. “I was depressed,” she admits.  

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

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

“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 is our hearts that often hurt. I want to help people.” 

She is currently waiting to be resettled to a third country and is eager to start a new chapter in another country where she will be free to pursue 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 in Türkiye, 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 (PRM).