Case study: Arwa Sevil

November 16, 2001

Arwa Sevil was suspicious. It was late at night for a friend to drop by. She opened the door anyway.

Turkish policemen stood there demanding she come with them to the police station to give a statement.

She was interrogated until about midnight, she thinks. Questions about her political beliefs and actions. Then, she can only suppose, she was struck on the head from behind.

When Dr Sevil (not her real name) regained consciousness, her hands were bound and she was blindfolded. She spent the next 15 days in jail.

Life until then had been good to Dr Sevil. She studied sociology and gained a PhD, becoming a lecturer at one of Turkey's top universities. She also had a degree in music. For a time she taught at a school of music.

Her "mistake" had been to, she said, "voice her opinion as an intellectual and a woman". She had written an article about the position of women in Turkey and within Islam in general.

The publication of her article, which in the secular Turkish state might otherwise have gone unnoticed by the authorities, coincided with student demonstrations, ostensibly over tuition fees. The authorities linked the events, she said, and identified her as a trouble-maker.

An influential friend found out where she was being held and pulled strings to get her out of jail.

"I do not know how he got me out. I do not know how much money he paid. I thought I would never be able to get out," she said.

Her friend found her passport and took her to Israel where he had business interests. From there she wrote to the British embassy in Israel and got a visa from Israel to the United Kingdom.

Dr Sevil, who is now in her late 20s, arrived in the UK in 1997 and was forced to work as an au pair.

As her visa ran out, she applied for refugee status. But there were problems because Dr Sevil had not applied for asylum when she first arrived.

Dr Sevil was eventually granted full asylum-seeker status but that has not helped her regain academic status.

"I have been writing (job) application forms for two years to universities and I have not had one interview out of 180 application forms," she said.

"I have no idea why this is. Perhaps they get the impression that because I have not been educated in England I am not capable. But I have the qualifications."

Like most refugees, Dr Sevil would like to return to her homeland. But she said: "Turkey has to change radically for me to want to go back."

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