More than 200 people attended a rally on Saturday protesting the decision to deport a transgender asylum seeker. The trans-woman, Fernanda Milan, is due to be sent back to Guatemala on September 17 after her application for asylum was rejected.
While in Denmark, Milan was raped in Sandholm Asylum Centre, a facility operated by the Danish Red Cross.
“I was very touched by how supportive the crowd was, telling me how brave I was,” Milan told The Copenhagen Post. “It was also impressive to see a lot of non-LGBT people as well. People do really care, they came to protest and are very angry about it.”
In Guatemala, Milan had been campaigning on television and in the press to highlight the grave treatment transgender people are subjected to in her country. After becoming a very public activist in a nation dominated by Catholicism and conservative views, she was forced to flee her country in 2009.
After arriving in this country via Switzerland, she made contact with LGBT Denmark, which supported her asylum request.
Under Danish law, Milan is classified as a man so authorities placed her in the male section of Sandholm. Despite being given a separate dormitory, other detainees were able to break in to her room and rape her.
“I wasn’t raped by just one man but by many,” she told Politiken newspaper earlier this month.
Milan was due to share the room with another trans-woman in Sandholm, but the latter refused to be placed amongst men and instead slept in a car.
After the attack at Sandholm, Milan fled the centre and was trafficked into prostitution for two years. Police discovered her during a raid on a brothel in Jutland.
“There is a lot of ignorance and a lack of information within the system about treatment of trans-people,” she told The Copenhagen Post. “This was a surprise from what I had heard about Denmark.”
Born a man, Milan had been receiving hormone treatment since she was 14-years-old. Because she was unable to receive the treatment after leaving Guatemala, she was no longer consider transgender by the Danish medical definition. She continues to live and self-identify as a woman, but that wasn’t enough to earn her a spot in the women’s dormitory in Sandholm.
“A transgender woman is likely to be placed in a male dormitory but in a single room,” Anne La Cour, head of the Danish Red Cross asylum department, told Politiken. “But we would not place her in a women’s dormitory because that is exclusively for women and we cannot permit ourselves to place a man.”
Milan, however, rejected La Cour's explanation, saying that she has been living and sharing facilities with other women in a Copenhagen shelter run by Reden International, an anti-trafficking organisation, without any problems or complaints for a year and a half.
Denmark does grant asylum to LGBT refugees but bases decisions on secondary and protection issues. After her application rejection, Milan fears what will happen when returned to Guatemala.
“It's very dangerous. I could be kidnapped, tortured or even murdered. I am panicking and I'm extremely scared.”
An online petition calling for the decision to be reversed has attracted over 1,800 signatures from around the world.
LGBT Denmark conceded that the petition will have no influence on the decision to reject her asylum application as it is nearly impossible to get a case reopened.
“The decision of an asylum case concerns the position of the asylum seeker in the country of origin,” Søren Laursen, a spokesperson from the organisation, told The Copenhagen Post. “The petition may send a signal to the politicians, but of course they do not influence the court either.”
Acknowledging a European wide problem, Laursen added, “Denmark is rejecting some of the most vulnerable and persecuted refugees and that one reason for this is a lack of understanding of trans-persons and gender identity.”
LGBT Denmark is currently working with the Danish Red Cross to help them better understand the special needs of transgender asylum seekers.