Queer refuges and asylum seekers face starvation while being overlooked by COVID-19 state aid programmes

South Africa

LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers are being excluded from crucial coronavirus relief packages offered by the South African government, multiple human rights groups have warned.

South Africa is a common destination for those fleeing countries that persecute sexual minorities, as 33 out of the 70 countries that criminalise homosexuality are in Africa.

But queer people arriving in the country have little access to basic amenities and are now facing starvation amid the ongoing lockdown.

The pandemic has cut them off from working in the informal trades that previously sustained them, including restaurants, bars, or sex work, and they are not eligible to receive government social grants or food parcels, as these are are distributed only to those with South African identity cards and Social Security cards.

Human Rights Watch is appealing to the country’s government to take urgent steps to help these migrants, who were already living on the economic margins before the pandemic began.

“The Ramaphosa administration should either ensure access to food for thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, or say that it can’t meet the need and seek donors to step in and provide assistance,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The government is ignoring the plight of refugees and asylum seekers currently confined in their homes and unable to work to provide for themselves.”

After hearing desperate pleas from refugees and asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch raised the issue with the South African Human Rights Commission.

The Commission confirmed receiving similar reports and pressed the authorities to extend support for these marginalised people during the coronavirus lockdown.

Their calls of alarm were joined by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The ACHPR delivered an urgent appeal to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, expressing concern at the lack of protection for vulnerable groups, which includes LGBT+ migrants.

“South Africa should make special efforts to protect the most vulnerable in the country and ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are not overlooked or forgotten,” Mavhinga said.

“The authorities should act and seek donor support to avert an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.”