SA’s Refugee White Paper and its implications for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers


The upcoming Global Refugee Forum (GRF) scheduled in Geneva from the 13th to the 15th of December 2023 holds immense significance for the global refugee crisis.

This forum will be a convergence point for a diverse array of stakeholders, including Member States, international organisations, humanitarian and development actors, financial institutions, regional organisations, local authorities, civil society, academics, private sector representatives, media, and, notably, members of host communities and refugees.

Rainbow Refuge Africa, in collaboration with R-SEAT and the Sanremo Institute for International Humanitarian Law, is actively preparing for this event.

However, recent developments, including the South African government’s new White Paper on Citizenship, Immigration and Refugee Protection, pose critical implications, especially for LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

The White Paper, dated 10 November 2023, has set the stage for a significant shift in South Africa’s approach to refugee policies. A comprehensive review is proposed, with a potential withdrawal from the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol.

The Impact of Withdrawal from Conventions

The proposed changes in South Africa’s refugee policies, as per the White Paper, could have profound implications for LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers. The withdrawal from international treaties may alter the legal status and protection mechanisms available to this vulnerable group.

The asylum process in South Africa is intricately linked to the principles outlined in the 1951 Convention that makes provisions for refugees. A withdrawal from this convention would not merely alter procedures; it could fundamentally jeopardise the entire asylum process, especially for marginalised groups such as the LGBTQI+ community.

This has far-reaching consequences, including amongst many, documentation challenges. Access to documentation at the Department of Home Affairs, a foundational element of the asylum process, could face unprecedented hurdles. The potential fallout may result in severe complications, impeding the path to safety for those seeking refuge.

Adherence to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol is not merely a legal obligation; it constitutes an international commitment to the preservation of human dignity and rights.
The withdrawal has the potential to create a human rights crisis within South Africa, where individuals seeking asylum may find themselves stripped of fundamental rights that should be guaranteed under international law.

Empowering Voices: The Quest for Meaningful Refugee Participation

In the run-up to the Global Refugee Forum (GRF), an essential issue takes centre stage: the pursuit of meaningful refugee participation. This resonates with a crucial question — what does it mean for refugees, particularly those from the LGBTQI+ community in Africa, to actively engage in decision-making processes?

The crux of meaningful participation lies in recognising and addressing the distinctive needs and challenges faced by refugees. For LGBTQI+ individuals, who often bear the brunt of discrimination and persecution, this becomes an even more pressing concern. The goal is not merely inclusion for the sake of representation but fostering an environment where their voices carry weight, shaping decisions that directly impact their lives.

By embracing meaningful participation, the GRF aspires to be a platform where diverse refugee voices, especially those from the LGBTQI+ community, become agents of change. It’s an acknowledgement that the richness of solutions often lies within the lived experiences of those directly affected by policies.

As the world gathers to discuss global strategies for refugee protection, the call for meaningful participation serves as a reminder that the most effective solutions are those crafted collaboratively, with the people they are designed to support at the forefront.


Henry Wackam is the Founder and Director of the Rainbow Refuge Africa.

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