Wednesday, 19 September 2012

PRESS RELEASE: Refugee Board resumes controversial case involving transgender human rights activist.

 My translation of a Press Release from T Refugee Project in Denmark

Following protests from asylum activists, human rights organisations and researchers, the refugee board has just suspended the deportation of Fernanda Milan. "This is only half the battle," says the asylum initiative, T-Refugee Project.

Activists nerves in the T-Refugee Project were raw all last week. And not without reason. According to the authorities Fernanda Milán should have been deported to Guatemala on Monday, 17 September. Fernanda and T-Refugee Project fear that expulsion will result in Fernandas death.

In the last month the group has therefore been working hard to overturn the decision, but it was not until the last minute that the news came: the Refugee Board has decided to reopen the case and her expulsion is put temporarily on hold while the case is dealt with over the next few months.

Among the activists in T-Refugee Project, there was great joy when the news came in.. They were in a meeting in Copenhagen on Monday afternoon to talk about the legal options and Fernanda's safety in Guatemala after the expulsion.

There is no reception program in Guatemala for deported people, according senior researcher at DIIS, Ninna Nyberg Sørensen, when they arrive at the airport they just end up on the street. This would be certain death for Fernanda when the date of her deportation had been known and there are people who want her dead.

Until news of the decision came, it was a 'worst case scenario' that was being discussed: “How could a rescue plan be implemented in Guatemala, so she is transported from the airport to a safe and secret place how to ensure that she has enough money to live in hiding in Guatemala, etc."

Lisa Rasmussen from T-Refugee Project started the meeting:

"Now I do not know if we have to hold this meeting. We are not under the same time pressure now. If the Refugee Board is to examine the case over the next few months, we have more time to find out what legal options we have, if  she is again refused asylum. "

The T-Refugee Project met on Monday at 4.00pm to discuss Fernanda's situation. On Friday night they were already aware that the expulsion on Monday would probably be delayed at least a few days because there was no police caseworker for the expulsion when they contacted the police to point out that there was a request for resumption of the case in the Refugee Board.

According to Stine Larsen it should be seen as an admission that refusal to grant asylum amounted to an error:

"When The Refugee Board chooses to reopen this case, it shows that we were right. We were right in that Fernanda is personally persecuted in Guatemala. We know that Fernanda is in danger in Guatemala because she is transgender and human rights activist. She is a familiar face and a model for other transgender people because she talks about their issues, because she is a fighter. So it goes without saying that there are people who want her dead. She is a political refugee. It is 100% safe, the threats and the attacks against her in Guatemala are politically motivated."

Asylum activists from the T-Refugee Project believe that the Refugee Board's handling of this issue has been very unusual. Emil Cronjäger explains:

"The Refugee Board recognizes that Fernanda is in danger in Guatemala. The problem is that they only believe she is in general danger and that they do not believe that the attacks are politically motivated. Therefore they refused asylum in the first instance.”

Stine Larsen adds:

"We have a really problematic asylum system in Denmark. Asylum rules have been tightened so hard that asylum seekers must prove that they are individually persecuted. How do you prove it? How do you prove that people want to kill you specifically and not just in general? "She asks rhetorically.

"The truth is that trans people in Guatemala are killed. So whether Fernanda was human rights activist or not, Denmark should recognize her as a refugee."

For Fernanda Milán herself, her spirits are obviously high: "This is half the battle. We have proved that it works to fight for justice. We are only halfway, but resumption of the case gives me strength to fight for my life again. "

She gives Stine a high five, and they laugh.

T-Refugee Project: / 6061 0566
Søren Laursen, retspolitisk talsperson, LGBT:

Facebook: Save Fernanda Milan, T-Refugee Project, ’Asylum for Fernanda Milán’- demonstration

T-Refugee Project Demands
Asylum for Fernanda Milán!

Minister of Justice and the Red Cross must assume responsibility for rapes in a refugee camp!

Compliance with the Refugee Convention recommendations on gender and sexuality as possible asylum criteria!

T-Refugee Project can provide contact to Fernanda Milán, a representative of T-Refugee Project, DIIS senior researcher Ninna Nyberg Sørensen and Søren Laursen from LGBT Others
T-Refugee Project is happy to make press photos available. Contact us for further information.

Fernanda Milán fled Guatemala after including being attacked and threatened by the police. She has for many years been a thorn in the side of large parts of civil society and the authorities because she is transgender and working for transgender rights in Guatemala.

Through her work in the organization OASIS Fernanda Milán received a lot of exposure as a spokesperson and model for other trans people. Therefore, Fernanda's life would be in imminent danger if she were deported to Guatemala. The deportation date is known in Guatemala, and it is therefore likely that her enemies there are ready to welcome her when she arrives at the airport.

In protest against the Refugee Board's decision, activists formed a support group, T-Refugee Project, which believes that the refusal of asylum rests on substandard legal work, which did not take into account all aspects of the case.

"The Refugee Board has simply not done their job well enough in this case," said one of the activists, Stine Larsen, who explains:

"It does not take sufficient account of the fact that Fernandas political work means that she is in imminent danger of being individually persecuted in Guatemala. Therefore, we believe that the Refugee Board should give Fernanda Milán asylum.."

The T-Refugee Project also demands that Denmark follows EU directives and recommendations from the UNHCR to include gender identity as a major factor in asylum cases[1].
The European LGBT organization ILGA is very critical of the fact that Denmark does not comply with these recommendations and that the Danish authorities have failed to protect Fernanda as she, as a trans woman was placed in a male section of Sandholm refugee camp and subsequently raped by several the residents. In March 2012 the UN human rights committee expressed concern about discrimination and violence against such transgender people in Guatemala.[2]. A situation which the Danish authorities should take seriously as Fernanda is at high risk of abuse because of her identity as a trans woman who publicly fight for the transgender rights

UNHCR (the UN refugee commission) recommends member states, and this includes Denmark, to take gender identity into account as a cause of persecution and thus eligibility for asylum. Denmark does not follow these recommendations.

Being transgender means to have a gender identity that does not match the body you were born with. For example, Fernanda Milán identifies as a woman, but is born with a male body. Being transgender is not a sexual identity in line with eg. hetero-or homosexuality. As transgender, the sexual identity can both eg hetero-or homosexual.


This post, and all translations about Fernanda Milan have a CC, Creative Commons licence and may be used freely as long as authorship is attributed

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

11th hour appeal makes Danish authorities postpone expulsion of transgender asylum seeker Fernanda Milán. Asylum Activists are optimistic.

"A reopening of the case has been requested, and until the Refugee Board advises the  police about whether Fernanda will be in Denmark during the investigation, the police will take no further action over the matter. We probably have at least won a few days,” wrote the group on its Facebook page.

"The fact that the authorities have moved the expulsion of Fernanda shows that they recognize that it is dangerous for her to return. The only thing we do not understand is just why they did not go all the way and give her asylum immediately," says Emil Cronjäger from the support group, who continues:

"But we are optimistic because we believe that Fernanda’s case was mishandled in the first place, and that a review is necessary to meet the requirements of both Danish legislation and international conventions", says Emil Cronjäger.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Denmark cannot escape responsibility for Fernanda.

The Pan-American Human Rights organisation,
The United Nations Association,
The Danish Institute for International Studies,
OASIS human rights organisation in Guatemala
and now
Amnesty International;
all say that Guatemala is one of the most dangerous places in the world for a transgender person. These organisations all provide ample evidence of widespread and systemic murder, harrassment, torture and official persecution. Charred bodies, stabbed, shot, tortured or just "disappeared" are the norm in a country where the average life expectancy of a trans person is 25.

The Danish Refugee Board does not think so however, and the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thurning-Schmidt does not want to get her hands dirty by involving herself. The official Danish policy is that it does not grant asylum to trans people because they are trans. However this does not mean that trans people do not suffer persecution, just that Denmark refuses to acknowledge that they do. Just because you refuse to see something does not mean it doesn't exist.

Yet, by sending Fernanda Milan back to Guatemala they are in clear breach of international law which states that it is illegal to deport someone to a country where they are likely to be killed or tortured. Whether or not Denmark has a policy of granting asylum to trans people they cannot ignore, either legally or morally, the actual situation on the ground in Guatemala. If Fernanda is sent back in three days' time she will die. Most people think she will not see 2013. some consider that she will not see October, some are of the opinion that she may not even get out of the airport alive.

If the Danish government does deport her, they will, in doing so, be responsible, both directly and indirectly, for her death, and that is something trans people around the world will not allow Helle Thurning-Schmidt to forget. In the end the buck stops at her office. She may not "recognise" gender identity as a reason to grant asylum, but if Fernanda is sent back to her death the consequences for the Danish Prime Minister will be real and will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Expulsion of Transactivist in Conflict with Danish Policy.

 My translation of article in Danish newspaper Homotropolis...

September 12th, 2012 Homotropolis

Everything indicates that if the transgender human rights and LGBT activist Fernanda Milán is expelled from Denmark to Guatemala on Monday, she will be in danger. The Refugee Board’s decision arouses indignation and amazement.

On Monday, human rights and LGBT activist Fernanda Milán will be deported to Guatemala, where she is at serious risk of assault, torture and death. This is not just Fernandas own assessment of the situation in Guatemala, but also the view of senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), Ninna Nyberg Sorensen, who for has many years studied the situation in the Central American country. Nyberg Sørensen says that Denmark is already fully aware of the risk to which we expose Fernanda Milán, by condemning her to deportation, she cannot understand the decision:

“That LGBT people in Guatemala suffer from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment - that included threats of violence, torture, enforced disappearances, sexual violence in prisons and other institutions, and medical testing without prior consent - is not only known among national, regional and international human rights people, but also by the Danish state.

Denmark, has since 1992 supported human rights organizations in Guatemala and the Pan-American Human Rights System. The Danish development system has continued to receive reports from organizations it funds, in which murders and assaults on activists have been clear. Why does the Refugee Board not have this knowledge relating to the treatment of Fernanda Milan’s asylum case?”

Refugee Board failure

The Asylum Working Party, T-Refugee Project, which is committed to Fernandas case, is also dismayed by the decision.

“It seems completely obvious to us that the Refugee Board has not done an adequate job in this case. The decision to refuse asylum has been taken without all relevant information being included in the decision, and obviously this shouldn’t be allowed.” says Emil Cronjäger in a press release, and backed by Stine Larsen, also from T-Refugee Project:

“It may surprise many as to why this knowledge has not been taken into account when the Danish government has known about it for years. It seems frankly like shoddy work, and I do not think that it puts Denmark in a particularly positive light when we on the one hand support human rights work around the world, while on the other, deport even those openly persecuted by torture and killings. It is deeply hypocritical and directly subversive of the foreign policy set by the Government. So they cannot both say that they support human rights and simultaneously expel a person like Fernanda Milán. It simply makes no sense, "said Stine Larsen.

Reasoned and well-documented fears

Ninna Nyberg Sørensen, amongst other things, an expert in gender, migration and deportation in Central America, has a thorough knowledge of the situation of human rights activists and LGBT people in Guatemala, and says it the prospects are not good.

“Fernanda Milan's fears are not unfounded. Over the summer of 2012, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed its concern over the murders of first a 19-year-old trans woman in Guatemala City (28 June), then two trans women in Villanueva (July 9), and finally the murder of a Honduran transgender person in Guatemalan territory (11 July). Local trans and human rights organizations report murders or 'forced disappearances' of at least 30 transgender people in Guatemala from 2009-2010. In the period 2005-2008 reported killing of approx. 50 LGBT people. The bodies are often terribly mauled, it is not uncommon that genitals are cut off, or that the body is dismembered to send out a warning that only heterosexual gender identity and practice will be accepted. A report from March 2012 estimated the average life expectancy of transgender people in Guatemala to be 25 years”

Demands for Justice minister’s involvement

Emil Cronjäger from T-Refugee Project also emphasizes in its press release that the Danish government has a direct responsibility for Fernanda Milan's fate and urges the Minister of Justice to investigate:

“If Denmark does not change its decision in this case, we are directly complicit in the abuses to which Fernanda Milán will be exposed in Guatemala. Responsibility cannot be swept away with the claim that there wasn’t enough evidence about the local situation, we now have many years evidence about this. It cannot be swept away by arguing Fernanda is not personally persecuted: She's been attacked and threatened repeatedly, including by the national police PNC.

“Just the fact that she is transgender should in itself be enough that she should not be expelled. This group is so extremely exposed, as it is. When you then include the fact that she has been a figurehead for human rights organization OASIS, whose leading members the last few years have been murdered indiscriminately, then it's completely outrageous that the Refugee Board chooses to continue to reject her application. I sincerely hope that it is an error by the authorities and not a general pattern or a conscious decision.
“If we choose to maintain this decision, Denmark is not just on a collision course with the UN Refugee commission's crystal clear statements about persecution based on gender and gender identity as a basis for asylum. We are also helping to undermine our own foreign policy to strengthen human rights around the world. I invite the Minister of Justice to take up this matter and reverse this decision, so we are not complicit in human rights abuses and so we do not put our own foreign policy to shame.” Says Emil Cronjager

Friday, 7 September 2012

Demonstrators want change in Danish Asylum policy: Stop the deportation of human rights activist Fernanda Milan.

Tomorrow, Saturday the 8 September, at midday asylum activists will demonstrate at Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen with the aim of preventing the deportation of Guatemalan Fernanda Milan. According to the organisers from the T-Refugee Project her expulsion does not take account of international conventions and individual risks.
Fernanda Milan stands to be deported on the 17th September after being refused asylum by the refugee board. As a result a group of activists in Denmark formed the support group T-Refugee Project. Emil cronjager from the group says;
“We don’t think the refugee board has understood that as an individual, Fernanda’s life is in danger in Guatemala. Because of Fernanda’s gender identity and her political activism she risks persecution, attack and eventual death. She is in extreme individual danger, if she is sent back to Guatemala.”
Stine Larsen, who is also active in the T-Refugee Project adds: “Fernanda is a well-known face in Guatemala because, over the course of many years has been open about being transgender, and also because she has been a spokesperson for the OASIS organization which works for trans people’s rights.”
Fernanda Milan is convinced that there was no other option other than to flee:
“I know no transgender people in Guatemala  older than 35 and many of my friends have been killed. When I was repeatedly attacked by members of the public and police officers, I decided that I had to do something to save my life."
“I fled to Denmark, because I had heard that it was a good country for minorities.” 
Fernanda is sorry she had to leave her family and her friends from the human rights organization OASIS 
"As a human rights activist, I am used to fighting for other trans people’s lives. I'm sorry that I had to leave my country because I was an important leader in fighting for transgender people. They needed me. But I'm sure I would have been killed if I had not fled. I had to do it. "
For Saturday's demonstration, T-Refugee Project invited a wide range of people,  the organization believes that Fernanda Milan's case is a matter that cuts across political and social boundaries. 
"We believe that everyone in Denmark must see that we should observe basic human rights. Unfortunately, Denmark is on a collision course with the EU and the UN Refugee Convention over this case, and we do not understand why she has been turned down. It appears to have been the result of a bad decision-making process. Both her ​​transgender status and her background as a human rights activist represent huge risks for her if she is sent back to Guatemala. But when you combine the risk factors, it's utterly inconceivable that we in Denmark have decided to refuse her asylum,” states Emil Cronjager.
Ninna Nyberg Sorensen, a researcher at DIIS, is one of those who has declared her support for T-Refugee Project's demonstration. Just on the basis of its general knowledge about human rights in Guatemala supports Fernanda’s right to asylum in Denmark:
"Violence against women and minorities is widespread in Guatemala, and it has been repeatedly demonstrated that state authorities, for example. the national police; PNC, has been involved in sexual violence and killing, not least prostitutes, homosexuals and trans people. This violence has been described as 'social cleansing', and has often had political support. An incompetent legal system and widespread impunity makes the situation more serious. Not only do sexual minorities risk being mistreated and killed; criminals will in all likelihood not be punished." she says.
T-Refugee Project also believes that Denmark is guilty of the same impunity that exists in Guatemala, when the rapes of Fernanda Milán in Sandholm not investigated. Stine Larsen explains:
"Can it really be that Denmark cannot protect an asylum seeker better than this? Fernanda Milán had to flee the refugee camp because of repeated rapes there, where the Red Cross had placed her in the men’s dormitory. Is this how Denmark treats asylum seekers? Is this how Denmark treats minorities?”
Emil Cronjager continues: "The Attorney-General's responsibility is to ensure that such a thing does not take place, and that when there are serious errors like this, they are investigated. In the T-Refugee Project, we demand that the Minister of Justice goes in and investigates. Those responsible must be punished, and the Red Cross should receive training about trans people’s needs and rights."