Lubbers dismisses claims refugees spread AIDS
GENEVA, Feb. 10 (UNHCR) - High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers has dismissed claims that refugees spread AIDS as attempts to further stigmatize a population already traumatized by discrimination and negative stereotyping.
Addressing the 20th meeting in Geneva on Monday of the Interagency Advisory Group on AIDS, Lubbers said this "double discrimination" was not only unjust but also unsubstantiated by data.
The High Commissioner also spoke out against mandatory HIV testing for refugees, especially testing that could prevent refugees from finding a safe haven in third countries. Lubbers said UNHCR supported voluntary testing, as long as the medical status of those examined remained confidential. But he noted that protection against HIV went beyond testing. "Refugees deserve the same opportunities for prevention, care and treatment of HIV/AIDS as those provided to citizens of the countries where they reside," he said.
A UNHCR policy paper on HIV/AIDS among uprooted populations said conflict, displacement, food security and poverty had the potential to make affected populations more vulnerable to human immunodeficiency virus transmission. However it said the common assumption that this vulnerability necessarily translates into more HIV infections among the uprooted was not supported by data.
The paper, presented to the HIV/AIDS conference by UNHCR's HIV specialist Dr. Paul Spiegel, cited an UNHCR study conducted among pregnant women in more than 20 camps housing some 800,000 refugees in Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania which showed that refugees in three of the four countries have significantly lower HIV prevalence rates than the surrounding host communities.
The UNHCR paper noted that refugees like everyone else become victims of generalized violence, conflict and instability in some areas of the world but they are often in a worse position than the local population. UNHCR said the groups most vulnerable to HIV aids were female victims of gender-based violation or exploitation, as well as children and armed personnel operating in civil war zones.
The UNHCR study also mentioned the increased vulnerability to HIV infection of aid workers themselves, citing the isolation and vulnerability of situations in which many humanitarian staff are forced to work.