Categories and Queues: The Structural Realities of Gender and the South African Asylum System

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
B CAMMINGA, African Centre for Migration & Society, Wits University, South Africa
South Africa is the only country on the African continent that not only recognises but also constitutionally protects and offers asylum to transgender-identified individuals. 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 article argues, that transgender identified refugees/asylum seekers, living in South Africa, rather than accessing safety and refuge continue to experience significant hinderances to their survival. On entering the country, an individual has fourteen days to report to a Refugee Reception Office and apply for asylum. To access a center, asylum seekers are required to queue. Faced with two separate lines, one for men and one for women—much like the issues surrounding transgender access to public bathrooms— transgender refugees approaching the South African state for asylum are immediately forced to make a choice. This queue also creates the conditions for surveillance, particularly as different regions are serviced on different days, which brings together the same asylum seekers from similar regions on the continent. This can make life for those who transition in South Africa doubly exposing, as they possibly move between queues witnessed by local communities. This article questions the necessity of an ever-ubiquitous system of sex/gender identification in the lives of asylum seekers, noting current developments internationally, regionally, and locally in relation to the development of third- gender categories, “X” category passports, the suppression of gender markers, and wider debates about the removal and necessity of sex/gender identifiers on documents and their impact.