Officials at the department of home affairs will soon undergo sensitisation training in a bid to end the discrimination faced by queer asylum seekers.
The decision to train refugee reception officers and adjudicating officers was taken at a meeting between queer rights activists and department representatives on Tuesday. The meeting was a follow-up to last Friday’s meeting between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights activists and Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba.
In a statement after the meeting, Gigaba said: “Our aim should not just be to comply with the law but to promote an ethos of diversity and inclusion consistent with the Constitution and our national values.”
Issues discussed at both meetings included the Civil Union Amendment Bill, the difficulties experienced by transgender people in changing their gender markers on identity documents and the discrimination faced by refugees when dealing with department officials.
Steve Letsike, executive director of queer rights organisation Access Chapter 2, said: “We have many cases where LGBTI persons come to the country fearing for their lives, only to come to South Africa and get discriminated against by home affairs officials.”
She added that “there were instances where it was clear that applications were rejected only because of an official’s prejudice”. As a result, “some asylum seekers are undocumented”.
Other decisions taken at the meeting were for “critical cases” to be dealt with within one week. Then, over the next six to eight weeks, all other LGBTI cases, totalling about 40, would be reviewed, Letsike said.
“We also discussed the role played by NGOs [nongovernmental organsations] in the adjudication process, at least as observers … in instances where there could be no such observer, refugee reception officers will be trained. This will be a phased training, linked to the department’s learning academy.”
Training would start in the current quarter, Letsike added.
Amanda Mashaka, an activist with Johannesburg-based queer refugee rights organisation Fruit Basket, said the consensus reached on sensitising officials made her “very happy”.
“It is comforting for us to know that some of these migrants who come through will now actually get help and can feel safe.”
Letsike added: “The department acknowledged that there were issues that need to be addressed. So I feel lighter now that there has been an admission and a commitment to taking responsibility for addressing issues — with actual timelines in place.”
Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the M&G