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AIDS Foundation condemns Delamere’s decision

The New Zealand AIDS Foundation today condemned a decision to exclude from New Zealand quota refugees, prospective migrants to New Zealand and applicants for work and study permits who test positive in a compulsory test.

Kevin Hague, Executive Director of the Foundation, said today that he would wait for more detail of the proposal before being able to make detailed comment, but said that he was flabbergasted that the decision had been made in the face of opposition, as the Minister himself has conceded, from all of the Government Departments (including Health, Justice, Internal Affairs, Crown Law) who have commented on it. He also questioned the timing of the decision.

“It’s plain that the Minister has some sort of bee in his bonnet about this particular issue. The original proposal emerged from the Minister’s office, rather than the Immigration Service, and when he floated it in April it was roundly condemned on a wide range of grounds from all quarters.

“The Minister suggests that this decision will somehow protect New Zealanders from HIV, but the reality is that by far the largest source of HIV transmission is that large group of New Zealanders who are already living with HIV. The only group who would be protected by this policy are those New Zealanders who have safe sex with other New Zealanders but unsafe sex with people from overseas (and we’re not aware of a single person who fits those criteria). The reality is that if the Minister wishes to protect New Zealanders from HIV infection, he should take steps to bolster New Zealand’s safe sex culture.”

Mr Hague today challenged the Minister to produce a single expert in public health who supported his reasons for the new policy.

Mr Hague also pointed out that immigration procedures already included processes for weighing up the risks a person with a compromised health status might present to New Zealand (including potential cost) against the benefits they would bring to the country.

“The effect of the new decision will be to remove this balanced appraisal system in the case of people with HIV. There is no reason at all why HIV should be treated any differently from any other health condition, except for prejudice or irrational fear.”

The AIDS Foundation reserved particular anger for the financial argument being applied to refugees:

“Surely the Minister understands that the whole point of a taking refugees is to play our part in the world community by extending a helping hand to those people who are much less fortunate than ourselves. Of course they will have greater health needs. They are also likely to have greater education needs. There will be costs associated with housing, resettlement and so on. Taking refugees costs money. The logical extension of the Minister’s decision is to take no refugees at all - that will achieve the biggest saving. If we do not have adequate resources to provide the services needed by refugees, then by all means let’s take fewer, but please let’s not water down our humanitarianism by saying we only want refugees who don’t have problems. Who will be next - refugees with high mental health needs because they have been victims of torture?

“What kind of nation have we become when, say, a young Australian girl with HIV would not be allowed into our country, because it would cost too much to treat her? New Zealanders need to think about what sort of country we want to be. The AIDS Foundation would be surprised if a nation that took such pride in opening our arms and our hearts to Eve Van Grafhorst would today wish to turn her away. The Minister underestimates the people of this country.”

Mr. Hague said that the AIDS Foundation would certainly be approaching the Government - whoever it was - after the election, seeking an urgent reversal of the decision and the establishment of a working party to examine the full range of health/immigration interface issues. In the meantime he said that the most urgent priority was for the Government to reassure refugees and new migrants currently living in New Zealand or in the process of applying that this decision would not affect them. When the Minister first floated the proposal in April it led to extreme fear and panic, particularly amongst New Zealand’s refugee communities.


For further comment:

Kevin Hague (09) 303-3124 (office)
(09) 372-9780 (home)
(025) 291-7628 (mobile)

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