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“Recognition & Refuge”: Supporting LGBTI migrants and refugees in South Africa responding to gaps in protection and inclusion

As Lead-Applicant, Iranti, alongside GALA, will research, document and publish a project on the lived experiences of LGBTI migrants to SA.

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Due to the high levels of migrants and refugees seeking asylum in an ostensibly “safe” country being met with violence, government inaction and general lack of support upon reaching South Africa, this project seeks to promote PEACE and PROSPERITY by enhancing access to political, socioeconomic, and human rights for LGBTI migrants in South Africa. The project will strengthen knowledge production and dissemination to impact advocacy in support of LGBTI migrants and establish greater community support, socioeconomic access and proactive legal interventions for LGBTI migrants in South Africa. Thus, a study on LGBTI migrant experiences and LGBTI asylum decisions in South Africa will be undertaken. This research will support academic growth in relation to the development of an African LGBTI Migration Studies Network (ALMN), that will support relevant exploration, documentation, and dissemination. Examples of supporting activities include a publication project of LGBTI migrant narratives, and a documentary for mainstream outreach. Through an informed, evidence-based approach to media engagement, these activities will bring stories of hope and resilience, vulnerabilities and fear to challenge current xenophobic discourse and deepen South Africans’ understanding of LGBTI migrant needs. Through investment in community-based third-party affiliates such as The Fruit Basket, this initiative aims to formalize and build on first point of entry services for LGBTI migrants who arrive in South Africa. This will consist of persons who are trained to provide and refer to essential services for psychosocial support, healthcare, housing, and other needs. Simultaneously, the network will engage with policy-makers, government and other stakeholders to ensure strengthened policy and implementation of LGBTI migrant protections. This project will last for 3 years.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

This project targets LGBTI migrants and refugees living in South Africa, originating predominantly from the rest of the African continent. Often facing stigma and violence in their home countries, South Africa’s LGBTI protections offer hope for refuge, but a lack of support and high levels of violence in this country necessitate urgent action for this community. As such the geographic focus is on South Africa, predominantly in urban areas like Johannesburg, and border-regions.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

This project will build bridges between the LGBTI migrants living in South Africa, and the broader South African society – particularly those who hold xenophobic and/or homophobic beliefs. South Africa has garnered a reputation for xenophobic violence in recent years, but by bridging the divide between migrants and locals, economic growth, safety and dignity can be ensured for all.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Many LGBTI migrants in South Africa have multiple needs which are not met to attain PEACE and PROSPERITY. These range from medical and psychosocial support, to housing, protection from violence and legal support. By documenting experiences of LGBTI migrants, we can better understand the community’s specific needs, while telling their stories to educate the broader public. Through this media output and various avenues of direct support, we ensure that migrants not only survive, but are given ample opportunity to thrive. Beyond safety, the need for human dignity and purpose must be met.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

This project will have 3 outputs which can be measured for impact. A research project, empowered migrants, and engagements with policy-makers. The documentations and research work will create positive change by filling gaps in our knowledge and educating the public. The success of this research will be measured through the output of a research-report, a documentary and engagement session with policy-makers. Direct impact comes from service provision to LGBTI migrants, as the number of cases in South Africa being addressed can be measured. As a result of implementation, LGBTI migrants in South Africa will be able to better navigate and access services, receive support and eventually sustain themselves, while government and society will be better informed and able to support LGBTI migrants.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

A 2019 book published by B Camminga, Transgender Refugees and the Imagined South Africa, represents the only in-depth look at transgender migrants coming to South Africa. This research, paired with a general lack of knowledge about the experiences of LGBTI migrants and the ongoing work of all partner organizations working separately with LGBTI migrants, has slowly been brought together into a cohesive, united drive to make change. Thus, no single point of inspiration exists, as multiple factors inform this work. This project is important to the community as many LGBTI migrants struggle to survive, thrive and attain human dignity in South Africa, but cannot afford to be deported for security reasons. Members of this community often lack a platform to tell their stories, but it is those same stories, told to us by LGBTI migrants from Tanzania, Malawi and elsewhere, that served as part of our inspiration..

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

The LGBTI Migrant community in South Africa is often marginalized on multiple fronts; economically many survive in the informal sector and rely on sex work or manual labor; socially many are excluded due to ongoing xenophobia and homophobia within South African society; and legally many migrants lack support or recourse for justice due to institutional biases and mismanagement by the civil service. LGBTI migrants often cannot return home despite the conditions in South Africa for fear of violence or arrest, and as such many are hesitant to speak openly about their experiences for fear of being targeted as “illegals” and being deported. However, various advocacy groups and NPOs have built trust-based relations with some LGBTI and migrant communities. This will be the basis for research, as evidence-based knowledge about this community and its dynamics remains sparse.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Direct psychosocial, medical, legal and housing support will consist of persons, inclusive of beneficiaries themselves, who are trained and fully capacitated to provide, and refer to, essential services. This will ensure that the community itself, particularly those already living in South Africa with knowledge of local systems and obstacles, can be included in the project and have their knowledge used proactively to support newcomers. The research project and documentary will be done in collaboration with migrants, allowing them to tell their stories in their own way and informing our interventions accordingly, rather than having their stories appropriated to fit a preconceived narrative.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

The lead co-applicants for this project are the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witwatersrand, and Iranti. ACMS and Iranti, along with other partners, will work to research the experiences and needs of LGBTI migrants as part of an African LGBTI Migration Studies Network (ALMN). Iranti and GALA, which both have extensive media and communications experience, will collaborate on publishing the research and creating a documentary. LGBTI migrant organization The Fruit Basket will enhance, formalize, and build on first point of entry services for LGBTI migrants in areas of psychosocial support, healthcare and housing. Migrants will also be trained to offer similar peer-support to other migrants in need.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Blueprint: We are exploring the idea and gathering the inspiration and information we need to test it with real users.

Group or Organization Name

African LGBTI Migration Studies Network (ALMN). Consisting of: African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), Iranti, GALA, Fruit Basket

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) is Africa’s leading scholarly institution for research on human mobility. ACMS has partnered with government and civil society organisations, including within the LGBTI sector, to determine gaps in data, conduct research, and shape policy. ACMS is thus ideally positioned to provide coordination, guidance, and technical support for the project. Iranti advocates for the rights of LGBTI+ persons in Africa. Iranti works within a human rights framework, raising issues on gender identities, and sexuality, through the strategic use of multimedia storytelling, research and activism as a key platform for critical engagement, mobilisation, capacity development, and advocacy interventions across Africa. Other partner organisations are well suited to implement sub-granted initiatives, as they have experience managing donor-funded projects and hold much insight into the state of human rights for LGBTI migrants and refugees in South Africa.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

South Africa

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Johannesburg, Gauteng Province


Join the conversation:

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Hello Kellyn Botha ,

Congratulations on your work and for big shortlisted for the "Improve Phase". Have you been able to connect with your mentor? We would love to learn of the new insights during this phase of the challenge.


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