Australia Screens Asylum Seekers for HIV, UN Disapproves

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s “discriminatory” policy of screening asylum seekers for HIV has been criticized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR’s regional office has requested that Australia end their health requirement for asylum seekers.  “The present operation of the health requirement is discriminatory in effect and endangers a number of human rights norms.”

Its submission to an inquiry into this practice accuses Australia of “fall[ing] short of its international obligations.”

According to the UNHCR, the health requirements prevent any migrant, who is found to have AIDS or HIV, from entering Australia, unless the individual receives a waiver from the Immigration Minister. Waivers are granted infrequently.

Under the law, asylum seekers with active tuberculosis are banned from entering the country.  However, some individuals, typically partners of Australian citizens are not subject to the same ban and are allowed into the country even if they fail a health test, on grounds of compassion.

The ordinarily strict health rules have been loosened for migrants, allowing any chronically ill foreign workers and families to immigrate, in order to solve the skills shortage.

Changes in the rules would encourage those with work visas to move to Australia, as they or their dependants were previously were turned away for health reasons.

Sources have reported that Australian taxpayers will spend approximately $60 million on healthcare for 288 asylum seekers who were granted these “health waivers” last year.

The Immigration Department rejected applications from more than 1500 individuals who failed the health tests.

Further, the department extended the waiver recently so that some skilled foreign workers and their families would qualify. But the department has not yet announced whether any skilled permanent migrants were given waivers.

An immigration spokesperson verified that all states and territories, with one exception, agreed to extend the waiver to certain categories of skilled worker visas last year.

New South Wales, the state to which most migrants flock, has not yet accepted the extension of the waiver due to the impact on their hospitals.

He added that “if some applicants fail the health requirement, there is the option for a health waiver to be considered.”

For more information please see:

The Australian – United Nations blasts HIV tests on asylum-seekers – 29 January 2010

Visa Bureau – Migrants with HIV/Aids will be allowed to emigrate to Australia – 29 January 2010

Global Visas – Chronically ill foreign workers allowed to move to Australia – 28 January 2010

Author: Impunity Watch Archive