Transgender woman Ana finally living a life that is true to herself
Transgender woman Ana came to Hong Kong from Mongolia to seek refuge from persecution and violence and to make a bid for asylum
All her life, Ana was forced to live a lie until a trip to Hong Kong three years ago set her free.
Born a boy in Mongolia, Ana (not her real name) knew from an early age that she wanted to be a girl, but her choice meant years of physical and verbal abuse from family and society.
"My childhood was spent surrounded by violence and discrimination," Ana said.
Now 25 and living in the Netherlands after her bid for asylum was granted by the UNHCR in Hong Kong, she no longer fears for her life and freely lives as a woman.
Ana's successful asylum bid is one of four known cases where a transgender person has come to Hong Kong to seek safe refuge from persecution and violence.
"Everyone has the right to live and to be free, to feel safe here," she said.
Throughout her childhood, she struggled with her gender identity, until one day, when she was 20, she went out in public dressed as a woman. "It was wonderful to be seen as a woman; that was the true me," she said.
However, after a series of violent attacks which led to a local newspaper publishing photos of her as a man and as a woman, she fled to Hong Kong in 2010. She was 22 at the time.
"Hong Kong was the nearest and most safe place," Ana said.
"I had thought of going to Beijing and seeking asylum there, but there are a lot of Mongolian people studying and working there which meant it would be more difficult to keep my privacy."
Five days after she arrived in Hong Kong, Ana handed her application for asylum to the UNHCR. "Emotionally, I felt really down because I had left everything I had and was asking for refugee status which was really painful," she said. "But on the other hand, I was trying to see my transition, my new life, where I could finally live as who I want to be."
UNHCR staff warned her that the application could take years. "At first, they told me it would take a long time to assess, but luckily, after eight months, my case was approved," Ana said.
"I cried my heart out. I was super happy and couldn't believe that they gave me an opportunity to go on living."
The UNHCR, which can fast track cases where sexual or gender-related violence is key to an asylum bid, sent her to the Netherlands because it would provide a safe haven for her.
"Discrimination is everywhere and even though I've had bad experiences here, too, I feel safe and I have legal rights," she said.
"If someone hurts me, I can go to the police and tell them what happened. In Mongolia, I can't go to police and complain, even if someone has tried to kill me."
She has struggled to find a job but does some part-time modelling. "They pay me a small amount of money which is really useful for my daily life, but in the modelling industry, I also face discrimination because I am transgender woman," she said.
Ana's family no longer talks to her, but she hopes this will change one day. "They need time to accept me. I have to have a lot of patience," she said.