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HIV-Positive Migrants Face Deadly Barriers

UNAIDS Governing Board Meeting on Migrants Should Emphasize Rights


International groups, nations and donors should give increased attention to the protection of human rights and the HIV-prevention and treatment needs of migrants, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report was issued in advance of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board meeting in Geneva on June 22, 2009.

The 22-page report, "Discrimination, Denial, and Deportation: Human Rights Abuses Affecting Migrants Living with HIV," describes how discrimination and human rights abuses faced by migrant populations result in increased vulnerability to HIV infection and barriers to care and treatment.

"Discriminatory laws and policies that deny migrants' access to prevention and treatment threaten progress on the global fight against AIDS," said Joseph Amon, director of the Health and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. "HIV treatment interruptions can lead to more infections, the development of drug resistance, and death."

Hundreds of millions of people cross borders annually, travelling and migrating for work or school, for family reasons, or to flee persecution or natural disasters. Millions of others move within countries. Yet, even while pledging to achieve 'universal' access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support by 2010, nations have largely failed to remove barriers and ensure that internal and international migrants have access to HIV services. Instead, many countries have discriminatory laws and policies that restrict the entry, stay, or residence of persons living with HIV and limit the access of internal and international migrants to treatment. Many countries deport migrants without considering whether HIV treatment will be available in their country of origin.

In its report, Human Rights Watch called on nations, international agencies and donors, and nongovernmental organizations to work jointly on law reform and provision of services to ensure freedom from discrimination and continuity of treatment for HIV-positive migrant populations worldwide.

Such discriminatory laws and policies can have devastating results. The report documents:

  • The deportation of migrants who test positive for HIV in Saudi Arabia.
  • How the vestiges of an internal registration system hinder access to free health care for internal migrants in China and Russia.
  • The striking gap between South Africa's guarantees to refugees, asylum seekers, and especially undocumented migrants of access to health care and the harsh reality.
  • How HIV-positive individuals deported from the United States often face harsh conditions and a lack of access to health care back in their country of origin.

Nations, international agencies, donors and nongovernmental organizations should continue to demand that countries that have HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay, and residence repeal them immediately and entirely, Human Rights Watch said. Restrictions on access to HIV/AIDS treatment based on origin and citizenship should be immediately eliminated, and deportation laws sending people living with HIV to countries where adequate treatment is unavailable should be reconsidered.

"Since the onset of the epidemic, the vulnerability to HIV infection faced by migrants has been well known," said Amon. "But donors and governments continue to fail to ensure that migrants can access HIV-prevention programs and neglect their urgent need for treatment. Instead of 'universal access,' migrants face denial and deportation."

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.