Transgender Syrian Katia finds refuge in Berlin
Gay Pride in Berlin welcomed thousands of people on Saturday, among them a Syrian transgender refugee, Katia, who now calls the famously open-minded city a safe haven.
"Here, we get support," said Katia, who described how it was impossible in war-torn Syria to discuss her predicament, let alone do anything about it.
But in Berlin it is a different story and Katia now lives openly as a woman while waiting for transgender surgery in six months’ time.
"I will be operated on in six months after my hormone therapy is finished. And then it will be even more natural then ever, I will be a true woman," Katia Al Shebaby told AFP.
In Syria, Katia had to keep her "secret" to herself and those very close to her, among them her twin brother Nour, who is homosexual.
When the then two brothers decided to flee the country in 2015 with their father, "nobody in the family really knew who we were ... In Germany, we decided to come out," she says.
They got here the hard way, along with hundreds of thousands of others from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who mostly got to Greece via Turkey that year and then travelled via the Balkans towards Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the doors to some one million refugees in 2015.
"It was a trip which took three months, very hard," said Nour, who lives with his partner in Dresden in east Germany.
The authorities have allowed Katia, Nour and their father to stay for three years. Their mother arrived this year and her status remains undetermined.
For Katia, Berlin could not be more different from Syria and Arab society in general in its attitude towards homosexuality.
"In society, not only in Syria but in the Arab world generally, one does not look kindly on" homosexuals or transgender people, she says.
"But in Germany, there is support, there are associations which help us, there is no unease ... In Syria, if we had said something, I don't know what would have happened to us."
This year's Gay Pride in Berlin, where it goes by the name of the Christopher Street Parade, was organised around a slogan seemingly made for Katia -- "My body, my Identity, my Life."
Just two days ago, a nervous Katia saw her mother again.
"I was afraid, I had the impression that my mother was going to reject me ... I was trembling, my heart was beating fast.
"For a moment she said nothing and then she relaxed. She accepted my new state. She said: 'now I have a son and a daughter, I am very proud,'" Katia says, smiling.
As for her father, who she has not seen since her transformation, that is a very different proposition.
"I have not seen him (since my change) because he will not accept it at all," she said.
As for the future, what does she hope for?
"Well like me, so that everyone can live as they wish and that in my country, peace returns."