25 delegates from the 20th international AIDS conference, held in Melbourne this past July, are seeking asylum in Australia having not boarded their flights home.
According to ABC News, Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says these men and women “have been considering whether they think they can survive in their countries of origin, or whether they should try to survive by getting refugee protection in Australia”.
Many of these delegates come from African countries including Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia; however it is unclear if those staying here are also living with HIV. Now homeless, these delegates have been put up in various hostels and rooms with the help of homeless service HomeGround.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison refuses to comment on “individual cases”, with his office releasing a statement saying “All claims for protection are considered on their individual merits and according to law.”
This comes at a particularly tumultuous time for the government in regards to asylum seeker issues, with 157 Tamil asylum seekers recently sent secretly to Nauru overnight last Friday, with Scott Morrison claiming they ‘squandered’ an opportunity to return to India. Similarly an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into the treatment of children in detention centres has also revealed the psychological damage the conditions are having on then, and the attempted cover-up of this information by the government. Psychologist Peter Young in an interview with Naomi Sharp (part of the investigating council) said “It’s quite clear that we’ve got a large number of children with significant mental distress and disorder (in detention)” and that the immigration department “sort of reacted with alarm and have asked us to withdraw these figures from our reporting”.
We must ask what will happen to the AIDS delegates seeking asylum here. It seems unlikely that the 25 delegates will be sent to detention centres seeing as they arrived here with visiting visas, which highlights the sense of ‘otherness’ with which government continues to categorise the refugees who seek asylum in Australia via boat. What remains certain is that there is even greater pressure on immigration department for transparency and a better stance on human rights and the treatment of those seeking asylum in Australia.
Words by MADELEINE ER who you can follow on Twitter