Malta grants first asylum status to transgender refugee

Protection was granted by the Commissioner after the case was considered and the individual circumstances of the case were reviewed.

The first ever transgender person seeking refugee protection in Malta was granted asylum after requesting the protection of the island’s Commissioner for Refugees.

This was the first case in Malta where an individual was granted protection based on gender identity.

Protection was granted by the Commissioner after the case was considered and the individual circumstances of the case were reviewed.

Last year, the government amended regulations to the procedural standards in examining applications for refugee status, to include ‘gender identity’ within the definition of a particular social group for asylum purposes.

The amendment was in line with two EU directives in which the European Union explicitly included protection against discrimination based on gender identity.

A 2014 report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) reported that there is a high level of repetitive violence and hate-motivated crime which trans people suffer.

According to the ‘Being Trans in the European Union’ report, the annual incidence rate of violence or harassment is around one incident per two trans respondents, which is twice as high as the incidence rates for lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents.

When Guatemalan transgender woman Fernanda Milan became the first refugee to be granted protection in Denmark because of her gender identity, it only occurred after the Danish authorities were pushed to reopen her case following activism by human rights groups. Milan was granted asylum because she feared persecution in her native country because of her gender identity.

It was only after the LGBT Demark provided documentation that her life would be in danger if she returned to Guatemala, that Denmark’s refugee appeals board re-opened the case.

The status Malta granted to the trans also means that the individual will now be recognised according to the gender identity.  

Silvan Agius, human rights policy coordinator at the Ministry for Social Dialogue, said the enactment of a Gender Identity Bill should protect trans people against discrimination.

“The positive outcome in this case shows how important it is for society to have the right legal framework in place,” Agius said. “Trans people continue to be subjected to various hardships in Malta, including employment discrimination and also violence as confirmed by a recent report published by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. The passage of the Gender Identity Bill should address this discrimination and protect trans people against breaches of their privacy.”

The Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act will be proceeding to its second reading in parliament in the coming weeks.