On Jan 18, 2017 News Deeply reported: In the third part of our “Return to Afghanistan” series, Umer Ali meets transgender refugees who fear that being forced to leave Pakistan amounts to a death sentence.
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN – You cannot talk to Gulalai in the language of her adopted country. Despite living in Pakistan for the past 17 years, she has been unable to properly learn Urdu and remains confined to her native Pashto. As a member of the transgender community, language is just one of the barriers she faces.
“I never learned Urdu because I rarely go out of the small world we have created for ourselves [to stay safe],” she says in Pashto.
Gulalai left Afghanistan when she was only eight years old. Now a shy 25-year-old, she speaks only when spoken to.
Whatever the constraints of her life in Pakistan, she is certain that it offers a better future than her birth country, to which Pakistan is coercing waves of former refugees to return.
Only fragments of memory remain from Gulalai’s childhood somewhere in the suburbs of the capital, Kabul. She was born a boy but realized as a small child that she was meant to be a girl. Her parents were determined she would grow up to be a “man,” and when she failed to live up to this, they beat her.
The punishments were harsh and relentless. Aged eight, she found the courage to run away. From Kabul she made her way to Jalalabad, where she found some protection from others in what we would now know as the transgender community.
All that is left from her family memories are some pain and wistful thoughts of her lost younger brother. She remembers him having a limp, but cannot recall his name. “I always wonder what happened to him,” she says.