Gi­gaba rights queer af­fairs

Prej­u­diced of­fi­cials in the depart­ment and trans­gen­der peo­ple’s IDs will be tack­led

Mail & Guardian - - News - Carl Col­li­son

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.”

Other de­ci­sions taken at the meet­ing were for “crit­i­cal cases” to be dealt with within one week

Straight up: Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba says he wants to ‘pro­mote an ethos of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion’. Photo: David Har­ri­son

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