Report: South Africa SOGI discrimination uncovered in refugee application process

A scathing report of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs LGBTQ refugee application process uncovered decade-long systematic discrimination against applicants based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The 88-page report, “LGBTI+ Asylum Seekers in South Africa: A Review of Refugee Status Denials Involving Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” published last week by a coalition of feminist and LGBTQ advocacy organizations, found disturbing trends of intentional and unintentional discrimination in queer refugees’ denial letters and government apathy to address the situation.

The coalition accused the DHA of open use of LGBTQ stereotypes, hostility toward queer and gender-nonconforming people, derogatory language in official reports, using unconfirmed resources, such as Wikipedia, ignoring verified reports supporting claims, and questioning applicants’ “authenticity” of their LGBTQ identity when making credibility claims for asylum status.

LGBTQ refugees were subjected to bribery, disdain, intimidation, mockery, and disbelief displayed by refugee status determination officers to the South African government’s dismissal of their complaints as “fabricated or overblown,” in the face of well documented evidence to the contrary, the researchers wrote.

The researchers also accused the South African government of subterfuge, blocking researchers from examining data to discover the discrimination, dismissing LGBTQ asylum seekers complaints characterizing them as “fabricated or overblown,” and not living up to the country’s domestic and international legal obligations.

The research team’s findings confirmed the coalition’s long held suspicions regarding LGBTQ refugees’ situation based on a decade of journalists and researchers’ reports about the abuses and discrimination LGBTQ refugees experienced within the DHA system, the authors wrote in an op-ed published by the Daily Maverick.

The researchers analyzed 67 refugee status denial letters published by 32 refugee status determination officers working at five Refugee Reception Offices in Cape Town, Musina, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, and Tshwane between 2010 and 2020.

One of the most egregious letters the researchers found was the denial for gay Zambian Anold Mulaisho.

The refugee status determination officer wrote that “he claimed that he was in pain after he had been raped. … Consequently, he would not have chosen to be a gay if indeed he was in pain after that rape incident. … There is no credibility in this application. The application is fabricated.”

The researchers found it was clear the DHA officers held “gross misconceptions about sexuality and gender,” that led the officers to question the applicant’s “authenticity” being LGBTQ.

The coalition was made up of the Legal Resource Centre and People Against Suffering, Oppression, and Poverty. The Women’s Legal Center, and the African Center for Migration and Society also worked on the report.

Originally published by the Bay Area Reporter.