AIDS Conference delegates seek asylum in Australia

ALMOST 30 delegates from last month’s International AIDS Conference in Melbourne are seeking asylum in Australia saying they fear homophobic and anti-HIV persecution in their home countries.

The Australian Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre (ARILC) confirmed that “quite a number of people”, mostly from Africa, had approached it following the international conference.

According to Melbourne newspaper The Age, a total of 29 delegates who attended the week-long event have applied for leave to remain in the country.

They claim that they would be in danger of serious repression or even death if they returned home.

The executive director of ARILC, David Manne, said anybody who feared persecution in their home country was permitted to apply for asylum on the grounds they could be entitled to a protection visa.

Homosexuality is against the law in 38 of Africa’s 53 nations.

“Without going into individual circumstances, what we can say is the sad reality is that their fears reflect the tragic reality – that around the globe many people are subject to severe brutality and oppression because of the issues that surround HIV and advocacy for people suffering from HIV/AIDS,” he said.

One gay African man who remained after the conference said that although he had been a registered delegate, he had attended solely so he could claim asylum in Australia.

The man, whose identity and nationality is being protected for fear of his safety, said before leaving his property had been raided, he was beaten up on a number of occasions and was later threatened in broad daylight with a cup of acid.

Although the acid was not thrown at him, he said it was that incident that had made him decide to flee.

His shop was looted three times, he claimed, adding that on the first two occasions the police refused to prosecute those responsible.

“Even if you go to the police, they say, ‘In this country you cannot [be gay]’,” he told The Age.

The third time looters struck, the man alleged, the police had joined in, helped beat him up and everything had been stolen.

“I did not want to leave without my family, but I could do nothing,” the man said.

Another of those seeking asylum is an African human rights campaigner who said he had been the target of a murder attempt due to his work.

“I don’t have faith in my own country to protect me,” he said.

A statement issued by the conference’s organisers, The International AIDS Society (IAS) , said delegates were vetted to make sure they all intended to return to their home countries.

“However, it is not unusual for there to be a small number of delegates who choose to try and seek asylum,” the statement continued.

This years conference – the 20th to be held – was marred by news that six AIDS experts had been on board Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, and died when it was shot down over Eastern Ukraine.

Speaking to the 12,000 people who attended the event’s opening ceremony, the president of the IAS, Françoise Barre-Sinoussi, led a minute’s silence for those killed, saying: “Tonight, for the next minute, let our silence represent our sadness, our anger, and our solidarity.”