‘Gender Refugees’ and the South African Asylum Regime – ‘There is no Queue for Gender Change’


Seminar with B Camminga (Huma)


Date: Thursday, 25 August 2016

Title: ‘Gender Refugees’ and the South African Asylum Regime – ‘There is no Queue for Gender Change’

Time: 13h00



South Africa is unique on the African continent in relation to refugee regimes in that it is the only country that recognises and constitutionally protects transgender refugees/asylum seekers. In light of this, in recent years, it has seen a marked rise in the emergence of this category of person within the asylum system. Drawing on research carried out between 2012 and 2015 this paper argues, that transgender identified refugees/asylum seekers or ‘gender refugees’, living in South Africa, rather than accessing safety and refuge continue to experience significant hindrances to their survival. This is in part due to the nature of their asylum claim in relation to gender as a wider system of dichotomous administration, something that remains relatively constant across countries of origin and refugee receiving countries. This paper addresses the impact of several interlocking forms of documentation and border practices for gender refugees noting that in many ways these are clear sites of tension in relation to transgender. More specifically it asks about the work and value of transgender as asylum seekers come into direct contact with the South African state. It tracks the crossing of gender refugees into South Africa and their experiences – particularly that of waiting in either male or female designated queues – while attempting to enter the asylum system through approaching a Refugee Reception Centre (RRO). The queue is the first of many hurdles that actively exclude and erase gender refugees. As this paper will argue it functions as a particular means to surveillance beyond the doors of an RRO. This paper questions the necessity of an ever ubiquitous system of gender/sex identification on documentation, noting current developments internationally in relation to third gender categories, ‘X’ category passports, the suppression of gender markers and wider debates about the removal/ necessity of sex/gender identifiers on documents in order to address the needs of transgender identified people and asylum seekers specifically.



B Camminga is currently a Doctoral Fellow at the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa and a former Erasmus Mundus Fellow at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. Their research interests include: transgender rights, migration and asylum, the impact of the bureaucratization of gender in relation to transgender bodies and asylum regimes and the history of trans phenomena in South Africa and Africa more broadly. They are currently completing a PhD focused on the lived experiences of transgender-identified refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa, entitled Bodies over Borders and Borders over Bodies: the ‘Gender Refugee’ and the Imagined South Africa.



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