Transgender fight for asylum in Denmark | Globalization | DW | 04.10.2012
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Transgender fight for asylum in Denmark

Fearful of attacks in their home country of Guatemala, two transgender people are fighting for asylum in Denmark. Activists try to prevent their deportation, banking on Denmark's pledge to uphold human rights.

Copenhagen's Central Station is bustling with people on the move - travellers, tourists, but also those who come to Denmark in hope of a better life. Once the country had a generous open door policy towards foreigners seeking refuge from war and other forms of persecution. But in recent years, Denmark has been far less welcoming.

That's something Fernanda Milan - a transgender individual who dresses and makes herself up as a woman - says as she relays her story in a café in the Danish capital. Just days before being deported back to South America, she received a last-minute reprieve from the Danish authorities who promised to re-examine her request for asylum.

A relief for Fernanda, who recalled her times in her home country of Guatemala, where she says she was a target for bigotry and violence.

"The last attack I experienced there was by a police officer," she said. "In previous years, other girls were assassinated or executed by police members, so I was afraid for my life. That made me want to run away from my country," Fernanda said.

Targets of violence

Campaigners working on behalf of Fernanda and Paola, a fellow asylum seeker, highlighted recent statistics which showed that 17 transgender individuals had been murdered in Guatemala during the first five months of this year alone.

Last fall, Poland welcomed transsexual Anna Grodzkaw into parliament; it was a first for Europe, too. Copyright: EPA / Radek Pietruszka

In 2011Poland welcomed transsexual Anna Grodzkaw into parliament; it was a first for Europe, too.

Stine Larsen is one of many Danish activists who are working on the Guatemalans' behalf. "It's important, because if Fernanda and Paola go back, I am completely sure they will be killed," she said. "It would be putting lives in danger. Or, they would have to live as men, not as women."

"Our foreign policy supports human rights all over the world, but when it comes down to giving a single person asylum - someone so obviously persecuted -, then policies are ignored and human rights are practically being violated," said Emil Cronjaeger, one of Larsen's colleagues.

Cronjaeger said he was actually stunned by Fernanda's possible deportation. "It is grotesque that this can happen in a country like Denmark," he added.

Cronjaeger said their campaigners have heard nothing from state officials regarding Fernanda. "Only lawyers have told us things along the way, never anything from officials," he said.

Even Fernanda's stay in Denmark has, at times, been wrought with violence. In the beginning, she was housed in a men's unit of an asylum center where she was repeatedly abused.

"I was raped. Not once, but several times," Fernanda recalled. "It was a very difficult situation, and it's traumatic for me to talk about it extensively. All I can tell you is that I was hurt badly."

Not alone

Fernanda is not the only Guatemalan transgender individual hoping that Denmark will look kindly on her plea for asylum. Paola has joined Fernanda in the café. With her hair falling over one eye and cascading down over her shoulders, she has a dark, mysterious look.

A transvestite applauds during the opening ceremony of the 1st National Conference for Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals in Brazil Copyright: AP Photo / Eraldo Peres

Brazil held its National Conference for Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals for the first time in 2008

"I cannot go back to my country. I'm 100 percent sure I will be killed. People are waiting for me there, and I know it. Here, I am completely safe," Paola said.

Instead she wants to make her appeal to Danish authorities. "The only thing I can ask them is to give me the opportunity to have a life," Paola said. "If I have to go to Guatemala, it is going to be terrifying."

Paola deflects questions about her physicality, and whether she is contemplating full crossing over to becoming a woman.

"I don't think it's relevant to talk about those things. But I am a transgender person and most importantly, I am a human being, so I think that should be the issue in this case," she said.

It's still unclear whether Paola and Fernanda be given a one-way ticket to Guatemala or a chance to stay. Everything depends on whether the Danish government believes that the chances of murder in Central America are too great a risk to send them back.

Earlier this year, there was clear guidance on the matter of sexuality by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who said "it is our duty under the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to protect the rights of everyone, everywhere."

Editor's note: DW has chosen not to publish photos of Paola and Fernanda to protect their identities.

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