News / Toronto

U of T project advocates change to Canadian refugee policies for people with HIV

Canadian refugee and resettlement policies are negatively affecting would-be refugee claimants abroad who have HIV or are at high risk of contracting the virus, a University of Toronto program has alleged.

The International Human Rights Program at the university’s faculty of law is launching a research project to advocate for changes on the immigration policy that has created the “designated countries of origin” list.

Immigration office says people from those listed countries are “less likely” to be prosecuted, thus less worthy of a refugee status in Canada. Many of those countries are members of European Union, some from Asia, plus U.K. and U.S.A.

But in some of those countries, the risk of contracting HIV, being stigmatized or facing prosecution is higher for refugees, sexual minority people or those who’ve suffered all sorts of gender-based violence, said Renu Mandhane, the program director. Canada should help those people to rebuild their lives here and get access to necessary medical treatment without fear of persecution, she said.

“Having HIV when you’re a refugee living in a camp bordering Syria is potentially a death sentence,” she said. “Canada can play an important role in the global fight against HIV by providing asylum to people affected or at high risk, and provide them with access to medical treatment.”

The research project will focus on Mexico and Syria as case studies. Syria is not on the list of countries deemed to be safe, but there are many refugees on its borders that need equal attention due to the vulnerability surrounding them, said Mandhane.

“When you come here from Mexico as a refugee, basically you’re hurried through the process under the assumption that your claim is bogus,” she said, explaining that sexual minority group in that country still face significant threat of persecution.

The program will hire a lawyer to work and supervise law students who will be working on this project. This will serve as a training opportunity for future social justice lawyers, she added. Researchers will travel to Mexico and countries surrounding Syria to meet and talk to people affected by this policy.

The program, which recently got a $75,000 grant from Elton John AIDS Foundation, is expected to conduct field research this summer and come up with the findings next fall.

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