WATCH: Trans Refugee Finally Finds Safety in New Zealand

By Mitch Kellaway

Originally published on Advocate.com September 03 2014 2:06 PM ET

Colombian-born trans woman Eliana Rubashkyn has finally found a welcoming home in New Zealand after almost a year of trying to gain entry into several European countries and being denied, despite her refugee status, reports the The New Zealand Herald.

Rubashkyn fled her homeland because, she says, she had been imprisoned, ridiculed, and targeted for rape because of her feminine gender presentation. The pharmacy student, now 26, first left Colombia to pursue a master's degree scholarship from Taiwan's Taipei University.

After hormone replacement therapy altered Rubashkyn's physical appearance, the Taiwanese government directed her to obtain a new visa photo, according to the South China Morning Post.

When Rubashkyn traveled to Hong Kong to update her passport at the nearest Colombian consulate, she says she was detained by immigration officials because her female gender expression did not match the "male" gender marker on her identifying documents.

After contacting Amnesty International, Rubashkyn learned that the only way to enter Hong Kong was through the aid of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees — a step that required her to forfeit her passport and take on the legal status of a refugee.

As a legal refugee without a passport, Rubashkyn was unable to leave Hong Kong until she found asylum, a process that took six months. During her time in Hong Kong, she fought to be legally recognized as female.

Under pressure from the U.N., government officials in Hong Kong finally recognized Rubashkyn as female in April without her undergoing gender-confirming surgery — a first for the country, according to the Post.

Fearful of returning to her homeland, Rubashkyn then sought asylum in a number of countries — including France, Norway, and Finland — but was consistently rejected because of regulations that required her to have undergone gender-confirming surgery before being legally recognized as a woman.

Last month Rubashkyn was finally referred for resettlement to New Zealand by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees under the refugees quota program, reports the Herald.

New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world that legally recognizes trans people's affirmed genders without requiring them to undergo often costly and invasive surgery that not all trans people seek. The others are Australia, the United States, Canada, and Sweden.

"I am afraid of surgery and I feel the gender is a cultural and social construction and it's not a biological thing," Rubashkyn told the Herald. "Whether I have surgery or not should not be the business of governments; it is my own business."

Rubashkyn, who left Hong Kong May 30, says that New Zealand is a "paradise."

"I have been through hell," she explained to the Herald. "And I am so appreciative and happy that I can start my life anew here in New Zealand as a woman."

Watch Rubashkyn describe her experiences in Hong Kong to the South China Morning Post below.

Contributor: 
Mitch Kellaway