I am illegal

Author: Untitled Ka

Edition: Fear

An estimated
8,000 Azerbaijani citizens fled the country in 2018

They left for different reasons. But many faced the same fate abroad: their applications were denied and they were forced to make a difficult decision: live in limbo, waiting for a review; flee elsewhere; or face returning home.

For many, the prospect of going back to Azerbaijan is more than just a disappointment. For political activists, it can mean jail or detention. It is even worse for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Azerbaijan was named the most dangerous country in Europe for the LGBTQ+ community in 2019.

The ranking reflects a coordinated effort by the government to make life difficult for non-binary people in the country. In 2017, for example, there was an organized crackdown against the LGBTQ+ community. Reportedly dozens of people were arrested, and at least one was allegedly beaten while in custody.

Today, members of the LGBTQ+ community have no safeguards against discrimination or wrongful treatment. They can be harassed, kicked out of their homes and arbitrarily dismissed from their jobs. They cannot marry, cannot adopt and can legally be subjected to conversion therapy.

The LGBTQ+ community has been robbed of the chance for a normal life at home, and so they give up everything for the chance to live with fear, far from home.  

This is the story of one Azerbaijani citizen who, like so many before them, sought asylum and refuge in Europe. They were buoyed by the idea that European values could secure a better future than their native country offered them. 

But four years later, they have become a number in a system, a statistic in a database, a faceless illegal in a queue. 

They gave up everything for the chance to live without fear. Today, however, they live in terror and uncertainty.

I am a queer artist in a male body. I am from Azerbaijan, where extreme homophobia puts my very existence at risk. I left my homeland in 2016 to escape homophobia, the pressure from society and the hatred, violence and aggression against homosexual people that exists there.

I left so I could live. Instead, I have spent the past four years trapped in my illegal status. This is my story. 

I was full of hope when I first arrived. I had a valid visa. But once it expired, I was not able to prolong it because I did not have, according to officials, a “strong reason” to stay.

But I did not have enough money in my bank account, or a place to stay, or a university where I could study or any other reason to present them. 

Although immigrants arrive in developed countries with great expectations, they are welcomed by a shockingly racist procedure. From the very beginning, they are not accepted, regardless of gender identity. So what started as a fight for my identity rights has transformed into a fight for my right to exist.

My anxiety over being deported started to grow exponentially from the moment my visa extension was denied.  

In Germany, living in the country as an illegal immigrant (without papers from officials which indicates your legal status, visa or residence permit) for any period is considered, in the eyes of the law, as if you entered the country illegally. 

And, so, I officially became illegal…

This mannequin represents my feelings as an illegal immigrant in Germany, where I lack an identity, status, or existence. I feel like a mannequin, which can be moved anywhere regardless of its own wishes.

Living under the threat of detention and deportation has had a terrifying effect on my mental health. I live in a state of constant fear. 

I’m not alone. Of course there are worse cases than mine. There are people who have lived in Germany for 35 years with no visa, no status—nothing but the fear of deportation.

There are many of us; many who have experienced even worse trauma.

Currently, the world is full of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, violence, all sorts of discrimination, etc. There are countries like Azerbaijan, where the very fabric of society and its culture strengthen those views. There are also countries like Germany, which, while they are supposed to be more progressive, are in fact still intolerant, especially on a bureaucratic level.

After struggling to live without papers—a hidden life—I reached the breaking point. I officially appeared at the Immigration Office, and I was greeted as an alien, who had arrived at a land where I did not belong.

Since that day, I feel as though I have been locked in a battle to avoid deportation. Over the years, I have received countless notifications about my deportation. 

The process is very straightforward. When a person is identified as an illegal alien, officials take their passport. In return, the person is given a piece of paper, known as Duldung (or tolerated right to stay). That permit means that deportation has been suspended.

In reality, it means that while I can be deported at any time, this paper postpones it. That means that every week or so, I am informed that I will be deported but that my deportation is being postponed.

To maintain the status of a suspended deportation, I have to follow a parallel bureaucratic procedure. In practical terms, that means I spend a lot of time in migration offices, where anti-immigration rhetoric is particularly visible.

Most immigration officers do not even make eye contact, they simply want to get rid of you as soon as possible. They speak aggressively, making the most of the power they have over you. Sometimes I overhear them speaking on the phone about deported people as commodities, as if they have no worth as human beings. Mostly, they try to make you fear being deported.

At times, they mock me, because of my sexual orientation and the fact that I am not German. I have been mocked a lot.

Being accepted as a homosexual in Germany does not really mean full acceptance. 

Sexual orientation is part of a person’s social or official status. I have been the victim of racism and discrimination. As a person fighting for your life, the question of my identity is a cause of stress because the threat of deportation hangs on how I am identified, and that identity also determines how I will live either here or back in Azerbaijan.

There’s not a day that goes by when I’m not thinking of my immigration status.

It is up to the German authorities to decide my status; I have no power to change my situation. And as a person with no power, I fear the police. If I violate even the smallest law, say I do not have a ticket on a bus or I cross the street when the light is red, I can be deported.

The constant stress has nearly killed my career. I have done one solo exhibit here, an art show about the refugee crisis in 2015. In my work, I questioned how Germany, and Europe, was handling the immigration process.

But under the relentless threat of deportation, I cannot create. It has become impossible to have a normal life under the constant threat of deportation. Not being able to work or receive any financial support means not being able to meet even basic needs, such as shelter or food. I have lost a lot of weight and am constantly depressed. There is never enough food. I eat just once a day, and sometimes I do not eat at all.

My boyfriend and my friends have always been there for me, they have always helped me find a place to stay or get something to eat. Sometimes they have even helped me find some illegal work, on the black market. But there is a limit to how many times I can ask for help.

If I am deported…life here is hard. It is difficult to deal with the racism in the bureaucracy, but being deported would be the end of my life. Azerbaijan is a dangerous place for a homosexual person.

This is a building in my neighborhood. Ironically, there is a smile on the outside of the building, in contrast to the melancholy inside it.
When there was a festival outside, I could only watch through my window. I could not go because I was afraid of the police.
During the festival, all I could do was sit alone inside and draw.

So do I have any hope? What I have is not hope…it is a very basic wish. But it is enough to keep my passion alive.

I have dreadful memories of my past, but the thought of my future dreams becoming new memories keeps me going...

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