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Uniting Church rejects Howard’s comments on “sick” refugees

The Uniting Church has expressed its extreme dismay at the Prime Minister’s comments that migrants and refugees with leprosy and HIV/AIDS should not be allowed into Australia.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice Australia said, “The Christian church is founded on the words and actions of Jesus, who reached out to those with leprosy and other diseases. He touched them, ate with them, healed them and called for their inclusion into the society.

“We are appalled by the Prime Minister’s comments.

“We believed that, as a society, we were long past stigmatising people who are suffering with illnesses such as leprosy and HIV/AIDS.

“We are concerned that these comments will incite unnecessary fear in the community.”

As a result of its longstanding advocacy and service provision for refugees and asylum seekers the Uniting Church has been aware that the health check requirement within the Migration Act already makes it almost impossible for refugees with major medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS to be accepted into Australia. As it stands, all humanitarian entrants who are 15 and over must undergo an HIV/AIDS screening as part of the screening process for permanent residence. In addition, children may be tested dependent on clinical indications and medical history.

Rev. Poulos said, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that many refugees with disabilities do not even apply to our migration program, as it is well known that they will not be accepted. Considering that this is the case, we have a serious question about the motivations behind the Prime Minister’s comments.

“UnitingJustice has, on a number of occasions, expressed its concern about this exclusion to the Immigration Department. We are most worried about how it affects many refugee women at risk. In these cases it is often the case that HIV infection has occurred as a direct result of the circumstances which would otherwise qualify these women for entry under the Women at Risk visa category. Sexual violence, including rape, is endemic in conflict situations and in refugee camps and settlements. Women who contract HIV/AIDS in this way are dealt a further trauma when told they will not be considered for resettlement.”

“The idea that refugees with complex health needs place an unreasonable burden on the Australian community goes against the Australian Government’s specific commitment to help those ‘most in need’. As a wealthy country it is surely not beyond our capacity to offer healthcare to a small number of sick people,” said Rev. Poulos.