Saturday, September 26, 2009

Returned to Risk: Deportation of HIV-Positive Migrants

On Thursday morning I took myself off to Parliament to attend a panel discussion on the deportation of HIV-positive migrants.  It was organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Aids, and Human Rights Watch, who were launching their report 'Returned To Risk'.

As host Neil Gerrard MP and the HRW London director made clear from the start, being an HIV-positive migrant is a double vulnerability: if you're a migrant, it's best not to be HIV-positive, and if you're HIV-positive, it's best not to be a migrant.  

I think you can pare the issue down to two main perspectives from the UK's point of view: how we treat migrants, and how to influence international consensus.  On the first point, sadly, we don't do very well.

The Home Office, who are concerned with immigration, seem out of step with DfID (the Department for International Development), who have been at the forefront of promoting universal access to HIV services as a fundamental human right.

It doesn't take a Daily Mail reader to know that immigration, and in particular asylum, is a very sensitive issue as far as our press are concerned.  I can't help but wonder whether the media's general lack of concern for the immigrants themselves has contributed to the Government's slow acceptance that we should actually treat them as human beings whilst they are in our care.

It's not just a matter of providing treatment up to deportation and checking off a list to see that treatment is available in their country.  As the representative from the African HIV Policy Network (AHPN) said, "Treatment may be available but not accessible."  Treatment may be available in the main cities but not in rural areas, for example, or just not provided as widely as claimed.

The discussion was attended by Ivy, a lady from Malawi.  She came to the UK to seek asylum in 2002 after she was forced to marry her late husband's brother.  She has a daughter here, and takes full part in her community, maintaining several volunteering activities.  Yet she is being threatened with deportation. 

She may be able to access treatment in Malawi, if she is lucky, but it will not be the same type of treatment that she currently receives.  She may suffer from additional side effects, she may find that it is not as effective for her, and that's just if she receives it.

Sending HIV-positive migrants back into a country where they are subjected to discrimination or are unable to receive treatment, can amount to a death sentence.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates subject immigrants to mandatory HIV-testing and, if positive, migrants may be imprisoned for up to a year without treatment, before deportation.   South Korea isn't much better.

The US comes in for heavy criticism as well, although the US Government have been involved in a successful programme on the US-Mexico border, which Human Rights Watch hope will be expanded.

The case of Zimbabweans in South Africa is perhaps the most disturbing.  It's estimated that as many as 25% of the population of Zimbabwe have left for neighbouring countries, with about 3 million living in South Africa.

They are entitled to free healthcare just as any South African, yet they are often subjected to abuse and neglect, asked for ID to make it more difficult for them to access testing and treatment, charged exorbitant fees, or kicked out of treatment programmes early.

The UK and other nations who have led the way on universal access issues, need to set a better example at home, and ensure that there is continuity of treatment, and protection from discrimination and abuse, when deportation is deemed appropriate. 

If they can't ensure this, migrants should not be deported.

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