Press Release by the T-Refugee Project, Copenhagen, Denmark, Embargoed until;
First transgender person granted asylum in Denmark
In the Autumn of last year Transgender woman Fernanda Milán from Guatemala was refused asylum. But after protests from an asylum Initiative; the T-Refugee Project, and a number of individual campaigners, her case was reexamined by the asylum board and she was granted indefinite leave to remain in Denmark as an official refugee on the 26 November 2012, recognised under the UN Refugee Convention.
The T-Refugee Project is delighted that Fernanda Milán has now been granted asylum, but is angry that she was forced to go through lengthy and gruelling proceedings. Fernanda Milán was granted asylum on 26 November 2012, but did not want to publicise the news until now.
Stine Larsen, of the T-Refugee Project says:
"We are very relieved that our struggle, together with Fernanda, ended in her being granted asylum. But it has been a soul-destroying asylum process with an initial refusal which was then reversed just three days before her scheduled deportation on 17 September 2012. Fernanda has needed time and space to recover from this ordeal. That's why we are only publicising the good news now. "
Fernanda Milán added
"I am very grateful to all the people who have helped me to fight, because in the end I could not have done it on my own."
Even before Fernanda was granted asylum, there were signs that the campaign by asylum activists was going to succeed. Following a request from campaigner Søren Laursen the Refugee Board sent a letter stating that the Board will from now on consider persecution on the grounds of gender identity and sexuality relevant factors in any asylum case.
Søren Laursen believes that this case casts doubt on earlier refusals of asylum to trans people:
"Looking at the big picture, I am very pleased that there was so much focus on this case. As transgender asylum seekers are a highly overlooked group. There have only been a few trans cases before the Refugee Board the last twenty years, and they were all rejected. From what we know of them, I think there is reason to question those decisions. It is therefore very satisfying that there is now a case that has received a thorough examination and which has been successful. "
Fernanda at the forefront of the struggle.
With the success of Fernanda's asylum case, it has been determined that new policies in this area can permanently benefit transgender and LGB asylum seekers.
Stine Larsen says:
"Fernanda has been fighting from the front. She has been fighting for her own survival, but she has also fought for transgender asylum seekers who will come after her. We hope Fernanda's case means it will be easier for future transgender asylum seekers. "
"Fernanda was granted asylum according to the UN convention on refugees, because the decision in this case emphasised that she was individually and specifically persecuted on the basis of her gender identity.
"Fernanda Milán's own case afforded us a grim insight into Danish asylum policies. And she knows that asylum seekers can not necessarily count on fair treatment.
"UNHCR Refugee Convention status for other refugees is not necessarily guaranteed in the future, because I have been granted asylum. The Refugee Board's new policy was a step in the right direction, but I think it is important that activists hold them to it in future asylum cases, " says Fernanda Milán.
A victory for Danish activism
As well as being a victory for Fernanda's case and for transgender refugees, the positive outcome is also a victory for activism in Denmark.
Stine Larsen says:
"I do not think the Refugee Board would have granted Fernanda asylum if neither Søren Laursen, eminent researchers and other groups and individuals hadn't argued for asylum for transgender and gay, lesbian and bisexual people who risk persecution in their countries of origin. I think the change in the board's decision in Fernanda's case was due to the hard work of many different activists have put into the campaign for Fernanda. "
An international victory
The Refugee Board's policy change is also a victory for cooperation between activists across national borders. And it is a victory for international human rights bodies and groups like ILGA Europe and the UNHCR.
The T-Refugee Project believes that the other European countries that are lagging behind UN recommendations on asylum for gender and sexual minorities, ie. The UK and Ireland, should follow Denmark and change course, and extend their asylum criteria to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
"Now we hope that the door Fernanda has opened in Denmark will mean that the UK and Ireland also realise that persecution on the grounds of gender identity and sexuality are valid grounds for seeking asylum. We will keep closely watching what happens in the two countries in the future, "said Stine Larsen.
Natacha Kennedy, a campaigner for trans rights in the UK said "Fernanda's case shows clearly that activism works. Trans activists in the UK are particularly pleased with this result. Many trans people and trans allies supported Fernanda with action in the UK. Now the UK government needs to clarify its position on trans refugees."
Life is difficult for asylum seekers in Denmark. And transgender asylum seekers are some of the most marginalised. Fernanda once said that encountering Denmark was the worst 'blind date' ever. Now she has been granted asylum and is going to live her life in Denmark.
The T-Refugee Project is a group campaigning for Denmark to comply with Refugee Convention recommendations on gender and sexuality.
FOR more information
T-Refugee Project: t.refugee @ gmail.com / www.tlounge.dk / trefugee
Facebook: T-Refugee Project / Save Fernanda Milan
The Refugee Board's response to Søren Laursen:
Demonstration in Copenhagen: 'Asylum for Fernanda Milán' manifestation
Demonstration in Madrid:
UNHCR: Refugee protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law p 43
UNHCR: About the concerns of LGBT asylum seekers in the beneficiary states: http://www.unhcr.org/505b27336.html
The UN Human Rights Committee: About LGBT conditions in countries of origin: http://www.ecoi.net/file_upload/1930_1340012793_ccpr-c-gtm-co-3-en.pdf
Press photos can be purchased from the T-Refugee Project photographer.
The T-Refugee PROJECT AND FERNANDA -THE BACKGROUND
Fernanda Milán fled Guatemala after including being attacked and threatened by the police. She has for many years lived as a transgender person and worked for transgender rights in Guatemala.
In protest against the initial rejection of Fernanda's asylum application by the Refugee Board, activists formed a support group called the T-Refugee Project. In September Stine Larsen, one of the activists in the T-Refugee Project said that the Fernanda Milan asylum case was full of errors:
"Fernanda Milan's case does not take sufficient account of the fact that her work for transgender rights means that she is in imminent danger of being individually persecuted in Guatemala."
According to information from the T-Refugee Project there have previously been three transgender asylum-seekers in Denmark. They were all refused asylum, like many homosexuals.
FACTS: REFUGEES THE COMMISSION CONSIDERS THAT GENDER IDENTITY MAY BE A CRITERION FOR ASYLUM
UNHCR (the UN refugee commission) recommends member states, and thus Denmark take into account that gender identity can be a cause of persecution and thus criteria for asylum. Until September 2012, Denmark did not adopt these recommendations but the positive outcome of Fernanda's asylum case demonstrated that gender identity and sexuality can now be recognised as an aspect of the legal acknowledgement of this social group.
FACTS: ABOUT TRANSGENDER PEOPLE
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 was born with a male body. Being transgender is not a sexual orientation like hetero- or homosexuality. Transgender people's sexual identity be both eg hetero- or homosexual.