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Rising up

Incitement against refugees by conservative media and politicians continues. Most recently, refugees are being linked with the rise in HIV cases in Germany ...

(c) HIV im Dialog

18.09. – Refugee housing going up in flames. Swastikas scrawled on newly painted walls. Families languishing outside of Berlin's asylum administration. These are the headlines in Germany lately. Still, incitement against refugees by conservative media and politicians continues. Most recently, refugees are being linked with the rise in HIV cases in Germany. News agency dpa recently ran an article pointing fingers at them, not a far cry from right-wing UK politician Nigel Farage's outrageous remarks to "keep HIV positive migrants out of Britain."

Robert Koch Institute reported in July that 3,525 new diagnoses were recorded in the past year in Germany –  up 7% from the previous year. This slight increase amongst migrants has led some to the conclusion that asylum seekers are exploiting the German healthcare system. Whether migration is due to asylum or not, statistics don't show how long these migrants have been living with HIV. Research presented at the International AIDS Society conference in Vancouver indicates that one third of migrants in France and the UK acquire HIV post-migration. This could be explained by the different cultural attitudes on sex and lack of sex education in the countries of origin. Conversely, refugees who have been living with HIV for years flee political, religious and sexual persecution to find safety here.
This accusation against HIV-positive refugees proves weak upon further investigation. According to Berlin Refugee Council, asylum seekers have access to a limited package of healthcare services, that covers only "acute and painful" conditions. While some refugees do get HIV treatment, confusion among health providers and irregularities in the system delay or prevent access to life-saving treatment. Refugees without papers have no access to healthcare. Language also creates a barrier for refugees to access support. For example, although Berlin AIDS Hilfe (BAH) offers counseling in different languages, HIV support groups with regular meetings are available only in German.

Another factor in this increase could be the problematic Bavarian policy of forced testing of refugees. (The statistics fail to account for HIV-positive Germans who remain untested.) Fortunately in Berlin, a better healthcare package for refugees was recently promised. Celine Simon, HIV and migration consultant at BAH, calls this policy change "an important first step" but laments that the current one led to "late diagnoses and even deaths". She affirms that "access to the health system should be the same for every person living in Germany, regardless of nationality or residency status". BAH, alongside other groups, activists and politicians are fighting back at "HIV im Dialog" on September 18 and 19, creating a space to address this soaring issue.

Ahmed Awadalla



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