Faith groups welcome lifting of US entry restrictions on people with HIV

Faith groups welcome lifting of US entry restrictions on people with HIV

By Stephen Brown
6 Nov 2009

Campaigners on HIV and AIDS have welcomed a decision by US President Barack Obama to remove entry restrictions to the United States based on HIV status and have called on other nations with similar policies to follow his example.

"Ending discriminatory policies and confronting stigmatising attitudes toward people living with HIV and AIDS are essential for their full inclusion in society and religious communities," said Bishop Mark S. Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation, a member of the Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) which has campaigned against the restrictions.

HIV-positive travellers and immigrants have since 1987 been banned from entering or travelling through the United States without a special waiver. Obama announced on 30 October the elimination of the restrictions.

"I welcome President Obama's announcement that the United States will now join the vast majority of nations that do not restrict travel by people who have tested HIV positive," Hanson, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said in a statement made available to Ecumenical News International on 3 November.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement on the lifting of the visa restrictions, urged, "all other countries with such restrictions to take steps to remove them at the earliest".

The EAA had in June with other civil society and faith groups campaigning on AIDS, met Ban and urged him to step up efforts to combat discrimination against people with HIV.

The Rev JP Mokgethi-Heath, a director of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS said, "We in the faith communities and people living with HIV, have for many years been campaigning for the removal of these misinformed and discriminatory travel restrictions … When applying for my US visa now I will not feel contaminating and contaminated. I will feel I am applying for a visa on the merit of my travel, the same as everyone else."

Winnie Sseruma who works on HIV and AIDS in London for the British agency Christian Aid, told Ecumenical News International, "The US AIDS travel ban has never made any sense at all except to re-enforce the stigma attached to living with HIV … We want all countries to allow people living with HIV to travel freely. The fight continues. "

The advocacy alliance is a Geneva-based international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on food issues and HIV and AIDS.

In July 2008, the US Congress removed all legislative barriers to repealing the ban. A final rule lifting the restrictions is to take effect in early January 2010, meaning that people who have HIV and are not US citizens will be able to enter the United States.

Announcing the rule change, Obama called the 1987 policy, "a decision rooted in fear rather than fact".

UNAIDS, the United Nations programme on HIV and AIDS, says about 59 countries impose some form of travel restrictions on people living with HIV.

It noted that, "international guidelines on HIV/AIDS and human rights state that any restriction on liberty of movement or choice of residence based on suspected or real HIV status alone, including HIV screening of international travellers, is discriminatory".

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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