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Hong Kong is 'hell': Transgender postgrad student-turned-refugee struggles to be recognised as a woman

Stateless and stranded for six months after what was supposed to be a quick trip to Hong Kong to update her passport photograph results in her having to surrender her Colombian passport and becoming a refugee under the protection of the UN's refugee agency

Hong Kong is 'hell': Transgender postgrad student-turned-refugee struggles to be recognised as a woman

Eliana Rubashkyn recently became the first transgender woman in Hong Kong to be officially recognized as female without having completed gender reassignment surgery.

But life is far from being a bed of roses for the 25-year-old who has been stateless and stranded as a refugee in Hong Kong for the last six months.

Before arriving in Hong Kong, the Colombian national was a master’s degree student who was awarded a Taiwan government scholarship to study at the Taipei Medical University.

Her ordeal began last September when she travelled to Hong Kong – for what was supposed to be a quick trip – to update her passport photograph as she has taken on a more feminine appearance after a year of hormone treatment. The Colombian consulate in Hong Kong is her closest option from Taiwan where she was living and studying at the time.

She told the South China Morning Post that she was denied entry into Hong Kong and detained at Chek Lap Kok airport when she first arrived as her female appearance did not match her ‘male’ gender as stated on her passport.

While she was detained, she said immigration officers ‘behaved like animals’, ridiculing her for being dressed as a woman. Her request for a female officer to carry out a body search on her was denied, and was eventually searched by male officers who she said touched her private parts and breasts.

The Immigration Department denies these allegations, saying Rubashkyn was stopped because ‘we could not confirm her purpose of visit’, according to the Post.

All staff ‘are well aware of providing quality service without discrimination and treating each member of the public with respect, consideration and compassion, irrespective of disability, sex, marital status, pregnancy, family status, race, nationality and religion’, it said.

Rubashkyn contacted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees through Amnesty International and was allowed to enter Hong Kong. But to secure the UNHCR’s protection, she was required to surrender her passport and take on the status of refugee.
She is now seeking legal aid to take court action over her alleged mistreatment while being detained by immigration.

Rubashkyn, who describes herself as a Pharmacist and Chemist on her blog, told the Post her life in Hong Kong to be like ‘jail – it’s a hell’. She has lost 10kg since arriving in Hong Kong and has to rely on minimal provisions by NGOs. Like all refugees in the city, she is barred from taking on paid jobs and has very limited rights to education and health care.

Her landlord has asked her to leave her 3.75 square metre room – her rent is paid by donors – as he does not want a refugee as a tenant.

Hong Kong’s Immigration Department has refused to recognize a letter from the UNHCR addressed directly to them instructing that she be recognised as female, the Post reported.

She has been issued a ‘Recognizance Form 8’ by the department that omits stating her sex.
When asked, the department denied gender was usually recorded on the official document and said it did not think ‘the sex is important to us in her case.’

The Post reported that an NGO worker from the Justice Centre Hong Kong, who deals regularly with the ‘Recognizance Form 8’, said it was customary for gender to be indicated on it.

The Hospital Authority however acknowledges the UN directive and has registered Rubashkyn as a female patient.

Following a Court of Final Appeal ruling last year that granted a transgender woman, who is only known as ‘W’ in the media, to wed, the Security Bureau published a bill in late February to amend the Marriage Ordinance.

The amendment will also enshrine in law a current government policy that requires transgender people to undergo complete gender-reassignment surgery – described by some as forced sterilization – for their acquired gender to be recognized legally.

Rubashkyn says that her will likely face deportation and persecution if she returns to her home country. She added that only countries in the world: New Zealand, Canada, Australia, United States and Sweden do not require transgender people have complete gender-reassignment surgery for their identity to be recognized. 


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