Activism work! How we saved Fernanda Milan’s life

9:21 am - February 5th 2013

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by Natacha Kennedy

On the 14th of August last year, a Swedish friend of mine posted a newspaper article about a Guatemalan trans woman who had been through a terrible ordeal trying to seek asylum in Denmark from persecution in her home country.

I felt so angry that I decided to translate the article into English, and it was picked up by the LGBT Press around the world, even being retranslated into Spanish.

Various forms of activism both online, offline took place. There were demonstrations in Copenhagen, in Madrid and here in London. Danes don’t get many demonstrations outside embassies; ours made it into EkstraBladet, the largest circulation tabloid in Denmark.

At the eleventh hour a message was received that the Danish Asylum Review Board had decided to grant Fernanda a stay of execution. Her case was reexamined and new representations were made. Information was collected from studies by the UN, the Organisation of American States and Oasis, the LGBT rights organization for which Fernanda had worked in Guatemala. They all confirmed how trans people in Guatemala are systematically murdered, and that Fernanda herself had had death threats from the police.

A few weeks later the Danish Asylum Board announced that it would now recognise as valid reasons for seeking asylum, persecution on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation. A couple of weeks after that on the 27th November, they granted Fernanda Milan permanent leave to remain in Denmark, protected under the UN refugee convention.

The support organization, hastily put together in Denmark, called T-Refugee Project, to support her was, of course very happy with this result but they were still angry. Stine Larsen of the T-Refugee Project said:

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.

Activism works, solidarity works. Trans people are now able to obtain asylum in Denmark, but the story does not end there.

The reason Fernanda had problems was that she arrived and claimed asylum in one of the three countries that had opted out of the EU agreement to recognize persecution on the grounds of gender identity as a valid reason to claim asylum. The two other countries to opt out of this agreement are the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. So far the UK government seems to have made no clear declaration either way on the issue of trans refugees. It is time they clarified their position.

If Fernanda Milan had been deported to Guatemala on the 17th September, it is highly likely she would have been one of the 265 names we read out at the Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony on Nov 20th. In the 6 weeks leading up to the 17th September there were four recorded murders of trans people in Guatemala, in a population only around one and a half times the size of London.

It looks like the activism is not going to end there; the last word on this from Fernanda;

“I have been a transgender person all my life. And I have been fighting against prejudice as long as I remember. I had to flee from Guatemala because I was fighting for human rights. Now I have the chance to live my life as a woman and an activist. Now I want to keep on the fight for a better world, where everybody can be educated, work, create families and live a dignifying life regardless of their gender identity.”

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Reader comments

The two other countries to opt out of this agreement are the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. So far the UK government seems to have made no clear declaration either way on the issue of trans refugees. It is time they clarified their position.

Given we’ve already had “they’ll be fine as long as they’re discreet” seriously used as a justification by former home secretary Jacqui Smith for sending a Gay Iranian asylum seeker back to Iran, I think it’s safe to assume that the reason the UK isn’t part of this agreement is because of the generally toxic attitudes toward immigration.

Specifically in regards to asylum seekers I recall that there was tabloid fuelled fears that the asylum process was being abused so that ‘refugees’ were bypassing normal immigration routes and then ‘taking all the jobs, yes even yours’, then when the rules were changed in response to these fears so that asylum seekers were forbidden from taking paid work and could only rely upon handouts while remaining in the nation as a refugee, the narrative shifted seamlessly to ‘coming here to take advantage of our generous benefits system’.

Given that accepting refugees at all generates consistent bad press I remain unsurprised that successive opportunistic governments have kept all their options open for ‘sending the buggers back’ where possible.

We are very happy in Denmark that Fernanda is safed,
it have been and rough fight the danish system is in general hopeless when it comes to transgenders, Guatamala seams no better, But with great suport worldwide and in denmark we made what we would never could make without.

I hope the case of Fernanda will open up posibilatys for other LGBT refugess in Denmark, I also hope that countrys like Britain and Ireland will feel inspired to change there rules to reconice gender identety as a reason for asylum.

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