Tue, Nov 09, 2004 - Page 2 News List

HIV deportations reconsidered

POLICY The DOH has drawn up a revised draft bill which would allow foreign HIV carriers to stay in Taiwan for a fortnight, rather than deporting them permanently

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

In a bid to ease up on Taiwan's infamous policy of deporting foreigners with HIV/AIDS, the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday proposed easing immigration restrictions to allow them to stay in the country for a fortnight.

The revision to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome Control Act (後天免疫缺乏症候群防治條例) drafted by the DOH would allow foreign HIV carriers to stay in Taiwan for less than 14 days, without restricting the number of times they can apply.

Faced with the rapid spread of AIDS in China, the department also included people from China, Macau and Hong Kong in the draft.

"The draft is made out of respect for civil liberty, as well as out of necessity to stem the epidemic," said Lin Ting (林頂), deputy director-general of the Center for Disease Control.

The center's latest statistics show that foreign people living with the disease account for 7 percent of the total reported cases in Taiwan. Since the reporting system was put into place in 1984, a total of 488 foreign cases have been identified.

Under the current law, foreigners will be deported if they are found to be HIV positive. Their visas are annulled and their names are permanently listed in official records, resulting in automatic refusal of any future application for an entry visa. Unless the revision is ratified and promulgated, their deportation is permanent.

While health officials hailed the DOH's revision as a victory for human rights, patient groups and health experts described it as an "ostrich policy."

"The point is not how long we allow them to stay," said Ivory Lin (林宜慧), secretary-general of the Persons With HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association of Taiwan.

"The point is whether we allow them to stay. The biggest shame is the fact that our government restricts their freedom of movement in the name of public health," Lin said.

Many couples are forced to separate because of the restriction, according to Lin, whose association has filed applications on behalf of 24 couples to prevent a spouse's deportation. All 24 applications were turned down.

"Think about that: It is 24 families ruined," Lin said.

Health experts hold similar views.

"This [revision] says less about our government's care for AIDS patients than about its violation of fundamental human rights," said Chen Yi-ming (陳宜民), director of the AIDS Research and Prevention Center at National Yang Ming University.

According to Chen, the deportation law is both unethical and ineffectual.

"How can deportation help drive down the infection rate? The link between these two is tenuous," Chen said.

According to Chen, it is impossible to shield the nation from the disease by means of legislation. The 600,000 Taiwanese businesspeople living in China, which has been severely hit by AIDS, and the 3 million Taiwanese traveling abroad each year add to the nation's vulnerability to the virus.

"Every unsafe sex act is a chink in the armor against AIDS. It is about sex education and condom usage. It is not about law and punishment," Chen said.

The draft did not make it onto the Legislative Yuan's agenda yesterday, since all the legislators on the Standing Committee of Sanitation, Environment and Social Welfare were taking part in campaign activities for the upcoming elections. The draft bill has been put on hold until the end of next month.

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