How to Address the Inadequacies in the Protection of Transgender Female Refugees in Countries of Refuge?

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Despite their prevalence in the global refugee system, the unique struggles faced by transgender female refugees in countries of refuge has remained silent. Although existing as places of refuge, host states have remained particularly hostile to these refugees. The term ‘transgender’ is still relatively new and this thesis aims to outline the plight of transgender female refugees through the various forms of violence directed against them. Thus, an extended definition of violence must be taken to be able to contemplate the ways in which the transgender woman is assaulted, whether that takes the form of physical, sexual, economic, or medical violence. Moreover, despite an international and regional legal system existing, which delineates the human rights of refugees across the globe, there still appears to be a disconnect between the law and the lived realities of the transgender female refugee. The law itself is no ally to the transgender women due to its inherent patriarchal nature; the transgender women is perceived as a threat to the existing patriarchal and heteronormative structures in place in society. Moreover, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was drafted at a time when the needs of transgender female refugees were not known and thus most of the existing international human rights instruments all pre-date the emergence of transgender rights. This disconnect is further fueled by the lack of hate crime in the international arena as a tool to enforce and protect transgender female refugees. Lastly, it was further seen that South Africa, as a country of refuge for African transgender refugees, provides a good example of ways in which the transgender woman can be assisted, such as through the development of Ubuntu and hate crime legislation.