The European Union (EU) has adopted binding rules on asylum which, in a world first, include transgender people. The new rules also cover lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
Until now, each EU country had its own rules and practices. The new rules are part of a ‘harmonization’ process and with their passage by the European Parliament on Thursday, now apply to all EU Member States except the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of EU asylum policies. Due to access the EU in July 2013, Croatia is also expected to adapt its asylum laws.
The resolution adopted specifies that “gender related aspects, including gender identity, shall be given due consideration.” Before, EU countries could still choose not to consider aspects linked to the applicant’s gender in asylum claims.
This is the first time any binding EU rule includes gender identity.
In April, the European Parliament narrowly voted on including various LGBT asylum measures in a resolution on harmonizing asylum procedures across the EU. This included expanding the definition of groups of asylum-seekers ‘with special needs’ to include people fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In September, leaked diplomatic cables obtained by the French news website Rue89.com suggested resistance from a number of countries to LGBT being included in the ‘special needs’ definition, but this opposition has been overcome.
“Around the world, transgender people can be persecuted for who they are. This reviewed Directive will recognise the danger they face, and it will commit EU Member States to taking gender identity into account in asylum claims. I hope in a future revision it will also become mandatory to consider the sexual orientation of applicants.”
Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, Vice-president of the LGBT Intergroup, added:
“I am very proud that my colleagues from the centre-right EPP group supported this change, regardless of the views they hold on asylum in general. The European Union is only starting to recognise gender identity as a ground of persecution, but I hope today’s vote will help protect more lives.”
Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs said:
“The agreement also sends a strong political signal on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention. The current events in our neighbourhood show that we must have safe, transparent and efficient procedures for those who turn to us and seek protection.”
Although transgender and lesbian and gay people have won asylum in a number of other countries, including the United States, refugee protection for them remains patchy.
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