South Africa’s patchwork treatment of refugees and asylum seekers shows much to be done to ensure human rights for all


World Refugee Day is commemorated each year on 20 June to raise awareness of the plight of refugees around the world and of efforts to protect their human rights. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of March 2021, South Africa hosted 266,946 persons of concern, including refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons. The law and policy applying to refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa are largely progressive. The circumstances that qualify an applicant for refugee status in Section 3 of the Refugees Act are drawn from the provisions of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention. A recent civil society report found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) refugees are being denied asylum despite being eligible for protection under domestic and international law. The report found that refugee status determination officers are not aware that persecution based on someone’s real or imputed sexual orientation and/or gender identity is a legitimate reason for asylum, or that sexual and gender minorities constitute a protected social group under the Refugees Act.

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