mert koçak: research & cv

Transnational Governance of Displacement, Sexuality and Gender Identity: UNHCR as the Main Actor in Creating a Legal Basis for Asylum-Seeking for LGBT Refugees in Turkey

Research Area 1: Displacements, “Dépaysement” and Discrepencies: People, Knowledge and Practices

Contact: mert.kocak(@)

My research focuses on the following question: how can LGBT refugees ‘legally’ register with migration authorities within a legal framework that does not recognize their very reason for seeking asylum? I study the case of LGBT refugees’ legal presence in Turkey. Demanding a refugee status in Global North countries (such as the USA, the UK, Canada and Germany) where sexuality and gender identity have been recognized as legitimate criteria for asylum-seeking, they have to be registered by Turkish migration authorities, country where no such recognition has been granted.

Between September 2017 and September 2019, I conducted, for sixteen months, a multi-sited ethnography, including interviews and participant observations with LGBT refugees, the UNHCR and local NGO workers. They took place in four Turkish cities: Istanbul, Ankara, Eskişehir and Yalova. I observed that the UNHCR had created a transnational governance within the borders of Turkey. Conducting the first-instance registry of asylum seekers and refugee status determination (RSD) interviews and granting refugee status the UNHCR, not Turkey, is the one who recognizes sexuality and gender identity as a basis for seeking asylum. By resettling refugees to third countries, it creates a transnational chain of re-displacements. 



  • 2016- : PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University
  • 2015- 2016: MA in Gender Studies, Department of Gender Studies, Central European University
  • 2013- 2014: MSc in Human Rights, Department of Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • 2007- 2013: BA, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Bogaziçi University

Fellowships and Scholarships

  • 2019- 2020: Pontica Magna Fellowship, New Europe College
  • 2016- 2019: Doctoral Scholarship, Central European University
  • 2015- 2016: Master’s Scholarship, Central European University
  • 2013- 2014: Master’s Award, London School of Economics and Political Science

Honors and Grants

  • 2019- 2020: Award for Advanced Doctoral Students, Central European University
  • 2019: Field and Archival Research Grant, Central European University
  • 2018: Research Grant for Human Rights, Raoul Wallenberg Institute
  • 2017- 2018: Academic Achievement Award for First-Year Doctoral Students, Central European University, Budapest
  • 2017- 2018: Field Support Grant: Central European University

Refereed Articles

  • Kocak, M. (2020). Who is “Queerer” and Deserves Resettlement?: Queer Asylum Seekers and Their Deservingness of Refugee Status in Turkey. Middle East Critique, 29(1), 29-46. DOI: 10.1080/19436149.2020.1704506
  • Kocak, M. (2016). Gendering Mourning in the image of Anne Frank. Kaleidoscope: Journal on the History of Culture, Science and Medicine,7(13), 542-551. DOI:10.17107/KH.2016.13.542-551.

Book Chapters

Kocak, M. (2020). Türkiye’ye Göç Eden Kimlikler: Yerel ve Ulusaşırı Dinamiklerin Kesişiminde LGBT Mülteciliğin İnşası (Identities that Migrate to Turkey: Construction of LGBT Refugeeness at the Intersection of Local and Transnational Dynamics). In K. Biehl & D. Danış (Eds.), Toplumsal Cinsiyet Perspektifinden Türkiye’de Göç Araştırmaları (Migration Studies in Turkey from the Perspective of Gender) (pp. 164-191). Sabancı University and Association for Migration Studies.