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Immigration Contradicting Itself, Breaking UN Guidelines In Trans Refugee Case

Immigration Contradicting Itself, Breaking UN Guidelines In Trans Refugee Case

Photos by
Prodhi Manisha/Sharon Kilgannon/Art Bicnick

Published May 21, 2018

The Directorate of Immigration (UTL) is contradicting its own policies, and appears to be breaking United Nations guidelines, when it comes to the recent case of a trans refugee in Iceland that they deliberately misgendered, thereby de-recognised as a man. The refugee in question will be meeting with a human rights lawyer, and a trans rights activist Grapevine spoke with points out that UTL has all the power to gender refugees correctly, and has done so in the past.

As reported, Prodhi Manisha was granted asylum in Iceland in large part because he is a trans man, for which he would have faced concerted persecution in his country of citizenship. This is outlined extensively in UTL’s own case work on Prodhi, which Grapevine has reviewed, and he was previously issued an asylum seeker ID that gendered him correctly. However, upon picking up his refugee ID last week, he discovered that he had been registered in the system – by UTL – as female.

While UTL contends that this is a matter to be taken up with the National Registry, Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, a trans activist, writer and co-creator at My Genderation, told Grapevine that UTL has registered trans refugees correctly in the past, and could have done so in this case as well.

“At least one trans woman has been granted asylum in Iceland before as a part of the quota refugees, and her gender identity was respected and she was given documents with the correct gender without question,” they told us. “Is not a matter of the legislation in Iceland being restrictive, as there have been trans people coming from other countries that have gotten ID with the correct gender and especially since they sought asylum because they are trans. They could easily change it and I believe it has to do with prejudice, lack of understanding and even lack of empathy.”

“It is incredible inhumanity and transphobic violence to put up with, and I cannot open bank accounts or pick up prescriptions after having gone through a lifetime of anti-trans brutality already”

In fact, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) guidelines for resettlement devote an entire section to transgender and intersex refugees, which states in part:

“Transgender and intersex refugees who have expressed a gender that differs from the biological sex on their documents or records may wish to have the new gender reflected in the [Resettlement Registration Form]. As a starting point, each person’s profound, self‐defined gender identity should be respected, regardless of whether the refugee has undergone any surgery or hormone treatment.” (Emphasis added)

Prodhi allowed us to get in touch with Daníel Arnarsson, the managing director of The National Queer Organisation (Samtökin 78), as Prodhi has asked the organisation for their assistance. Daníel told us that he has been in communication with UTL, and will also be speaking with the National Registry. Prodhi has also been speaking with advocacy groups about legal options and has set up plans to meet with a human rights lawyer at the end of this week.

Prodhi wants to impress upon readers the direness of his situation.

“Imagine having to fight all your childhood for the right to exist against trauma and violence for being who you are, for being attacked and beaten down because you’re a boy,” he told us. “You are told you cannot exist as you are by your unsafe country of citizenship, that you’re a woman. So you fight for your life and finally make your way to a safe border for your right to your identity, and you seek asylum. While seeking asylum, you’re told you are finally accepted as a man–given ID for it. The small boy who got his right to exist taken away from him finally feels relief, acceptance and safety. Then you’re told you are granted asylum because Iceland believes you’re a man and you have been persecuted because of it, but then it rips away your ID stating you’re a boy, hands you an ID that tells you that you can’t exist as a man, that you’re a woman. So we’re back to square one, aren’t we?”

Ugla agrees that Iceland is greatly lacking when it comes to trans rights, even if the law is not preventing UTL from registering Prodhi correctly.

“I hope to receive a new kennitala registering me with my correct gender as my previous asylum-seeker ID so that I can carry on with my life and start a new, safe life in Iceland.”

“Iceland has quickly fallen behind in comparison to neighbouring countries and countries in Europe,” they told us. “Iceland has steadily been dropping on the ILGA Europe Rainbow Map to 18th to 20th place, far behind all the Nordic countries that we so often compare ourselves to. This is largely because of poor and discriminatory legislation on trans rights and lack of legal recognition and protection for intersex people.”

While UTL has suggested to Prodhi that he endure the “assessment process” for trans people, this process has been criticised as needlessly invasive, and Ugla is amongst those who see it that way as well.

“The law is also not inclusive of non binary gender identities and is firmly based on the idea that men and women have specific roles in society, as it says that trans people need to ‘live in the opposite gender role’ for a certain amount of time before getting access to [legal gender recognition],” they told Grapevine. “It therefore enforces oppressive and restrictive gender norms instead of creating an open space for trans people to express their gender identity fully and authentically.”

For Prodhi, being gendered correctly is entirely a matter of being able to lead a free and normal life in Iceland.

“Us trans people, we fight for our gender identities all our lives – more so if we are transgender refugees,” he tells us. “To grant us safety but denying us our right to exist and identify as we are is violence–there is no safety in misgendering for a trans person. I cannot use my current kennitala that identifies me incorrectly as a woman after a whole year of living with an Icelandic ID that genders me correctly. It is incredible inhumanity and transphobic violence to put up with, and I cannot open bank accounts or pick up prescriptions after having gone through a lifetime of anti-trans brutality already. I hope to receive a new kennitala [Icelandic identity number] registering me with my correct gender as my previous asylum-seeker ID so that I can carry on with my life and start a new, safe life in Iceland.”

Correction: The original text stated that Iceland had dropped to 17th place on the ILGA Europe Rainbow Map. This figure has been amended to reflect its actual, lower ranking.


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