Colombian LGBTI couple flees threats to find welcome in Switzerland
Forced to flee their home at a moment's notice, Daniela and Sofia are now free to love.
Sofia (left) and Daniela at the Swiss organization that supported their asylum request.
© UNHCR/Mark Henley
In her native Colombia, activist Daniela fought hard for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, offering them advice and a shoulder to lean on. In a country scarred by violence, her activism was not always welcome.
It was New Year’s Eve in 2009 when she first realized she would have to flee.
“It was two in the morning,” recalls Daniela, 35, who lived in the Colombian countryside. “I was celebrating the New Year in a nearby village when two armed men approached me. I felt my stomach drop.
"They took me aside and told me I was a bad example for children. They told me I had one day to leave, or else.”
Daniela ran home and, under the pretence that she had been offered a job, fled to Bogota the next day. She left behind her mother and young son, as well as the small business that had supported her family.
"They told me I had one day to leave, or else."
In Bogota, Daniela continued to campaign for LGBTI rights. She met her partner Sofia and was finally reunited with her now 10-year-old son. For the next four years, the family lived in relative safety.
Then, Daniela and Sofia began receiving new threats.
“They started printing hate posters with my name on it and then they started harassing me over the phone,” says Daniela.
She was forced to move house and change jobs. The family also changed their daily routine to avoid running into danger. “We were constantly anxious, frightened,” adds Daniela.
When two of Daniela’s and Sofia’s activist friends were murdered, Daniela knew they would have to pack up and leave home once more.
"We were constantly anxious, frightened."
They flew to Switzerland in December 2016 and asked for asylum upon arrival.
Switzerland in the middle of December was cold, but it offered a warm welcome to the pair. Thanks to a local community project, Daniela and Sofia found safety in western Switzerland, after spending three months in a reception centre.
Since arriving, Daniela and Sofia have worked tirelessly to rebuild their lives. Their first goal is to learn French so that they can resume their LGBTI activism. They are also studying for bachelors' degrees and volunteering at a local soccer academy. Daniela’s son is making new friends at school.
“When people flee their homes and communities, their support networks become fragile and broken, and the protection risks they face often become more acute,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a video address marking this year’s International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on May 17.
“Finding and developing adequate support networks is therefore crucial to the realization of their rights and enabling them to pursue their aspirations in the countries and communities in which they seek protection,” he added.
Daniela is grateful to have found a safe haven to live and love in Switzerland.
"When I see my son happy and involved in the local community, and all the opportunities that are open to him in the future, I dream of building a life here in Switzerland," she says. "But if the situation allows, I hope one day to return to Colombia to support the LGBTI people there."
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is committed to protecting the rights of LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as highlighting the importance of networks and coalitions that support those uprooted from their homes.