Trans and LGB asylum seekers have expressed grave concern over South Africa’s new drastic asylum law limiting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
The new refugee regulations which enable implementation of the Refugee Amendment Act reportedly came into effective January 1 2020 and where first published in December 2019 by South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs.
According to freedom house report under this regulation refugees can lose their refugee status for voting or participating in any political activity in their countries of origin. “This effectively prevents refugees from protesting against abuses in the countries from which they have fled. However, South Africa’s bill of rights specifically confers the rights to opinion, expression, and association upon everyone.”
The new regulations also include other grounds for the loss of refugee status, including if a refugee seeks any consular services from their country of origin. This could mean that an act as simple as requesting a birth certificate at a consulate could trigger a withdrawal of refugee status and possible deportation. These rules thus could violate the right of nonrefoulement, an established principle under international law which holds that a refugee should not be returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.
The new refugee regulations also tighten the administrative rules for applying for asylum. They create strict procedural limitations in the asylum process, including eligibility stipulations related to how an asylum seeker entered South Africa and how quickly they present themselves to a Refugee Reception Office to apply for asylum. The regulations also limit asylum seekers’ right to work and study in South Africa, which would undermine their ability to support themselves and violate their right to dignity under the constitution.
Freedom House has castigated the move in statement maintaining that
South African government should get rid of the Act which is antivires its constitution and international law.
“The requirements mean that many individuals in the country who need and deserve refugee protection could lose or never obtain it. Those affected may lose the freedom to earn livelihoods, express their opinions, and engage in political processes, and could be sent back to countries where they fear persecution or violence. While South Africa was once lauded for its advanced refugee policy, implementation of that policy has long fallen short of international standards. The new regulations reveal a growing, and overt, priority for exclusion rather than protection,” explained Paul Graham, project director for Freedom House Southern Africa.
Trans asylum seekers interviewed said this Act was likely to make life even more difficult. “These laws are hostile towards us its hard enough geting asylum already in South Africa,” said Jones a trans man living in south Africa.
Another activist gay man from Uganda said” I fled Uganda because of persecution, and for economic reasons after being exposed in the newspapers i couldn’t find a job although i am a qualified accountant but its so hard to get a work permit here not to mention asylum.”
A Transwoman and human rights activist Lebo from Botswana raised concern about this law which they described as UnAfrican and hostile. “South Africa is becoming like those far right fascist parties in Europe, this is scary because they are closing doors for fellow Africans forgetting that these borders are colonial they were imposed on Africa by foreigners ,we are all one Ubuntu means unity something the South African officials clearly do not understand.”