Anastasia Pokrovskaya: “Deportation of Migrants with HIV Leads to Criminalization”

Photo: minusvirus.org

Author: Oksana Maklakova, Russia

The government of the Russian Federation is planning to increase the country’s population by 5-10 million people, by attracting migrants from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Moldova. This is what Russian policy-makers say. However, Russia is the only country in the Council of Europe which still deports foreign citizens living with HIV. Anastasia Pokrovskaya, senior research associate of the Federal AIDS Centre, says that introducing amendments to the relevant regulations could protect the health of many people and contribute to their decriminalization. As part of the Partnership Program, she was involved in drafting an expert report for a project to ensure migrant access to HIV treatment and abolish the provision on deportation of foreigners living with HIV who enter the Russian Federation.

How many migrants come to Russia and what is the rate of HIV prevalence among them?

– According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2018 Russia issued 1,671,706 labour patents to migrants. Those are people who enter the country legally and are officially registered with the relevant authorities. To get a labour patent or a permit to stay in the country for a period exceeding three months, medical examinations, including HIV testing, are mandatory. HIV prevalence is about 100 cases per 100,000 people tested. However, this number does not reflect the real HIV prevalence as some migrants, anticipating possible test results, avoid health check-ups. They come to the country illegally, get short-term visas without getting any patents, buy fake health certificates or send another person to be tested in their place. This law on deportation of foreigners with HIV creates many opportunities for illegal activity, both among migrants and among Russian organizations which offer migrants illegal services to help them get round the law.

Is this typical only for Russia? What’s the situation in other countries?

– Initially about 60 countries applied the rule: if you fall ill or cross the border with HIV, you have to leave the country. However, there are now only nine countries, including Russia, where such regulations still exist. Other countries, such as the United States, Armenia and Ukraine, abolished such legislation in the last 5-10 years.

What is the goal of your project?

– Our goal is to show why this approach should be changed in the first place; to demonstrate the demographic and epidemiological premises for abolishing deportation provisions. We have developed a document providing medical and legal justifications why we need to amend the legislation. We state that this provision should be repealed because it does not bring any benefits. Firstly, it is clear that it will not help us to end the HIV epidemic. In terms of new HIV cases we are ahead of many neighbouring countries from which migrants come to Russia. Secondly, in reality this law does not work anyway. People stay in the country, but go underground and continue living in the ‘grey zone’. As a result, they remain sick and infect others while their disease progresses, as they have no access to treatment. Meanwhile, they cannot go back to their home countries to get treatment because they are afraid they will not be able to return.

Photo: minusvirus.org

What is the current response to such challenges?

– There are some NGOs which help deliver services to such people. According to the law, we are not able to ensure comprehensive medical check-ups or provide relevant health assistance to migrants. The biggest challenge is that we are not able to provide them with antiretroviral therapy (ART). This is the biggest issue. Russian citizens can access ART free of charge. However, our government is not ready to allocate funding to treat foreigners, for obvious reasons.

So there are economic reasons for not abolishing the regulations?

– Probably. There are concerns about financial and administrative consequences. International agreements should be signed between governments. It is difficult for us to use the experience of other countries in addressing the issues of HIV and migrants, as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and other international charities which could take over some functions in this regard do not operate in Russia. Even if the country abolishes the regulation on deportation of foreigners living with HIV and such people get the right to stay in our country legally, they could still receive ART at home. All AIDS centres in neighbouring countries accept migrants who are registered for HIV care, and provide them with ART medications for several months. However, to get registered for HIV care, people have to leave Russia and then come back, which is currently not possible due to the travel ban on foreigners living with HIV. Thus, we will have to find our own solutions to this situation. There are some options currently being discussed, but it needs time. The final decision should be made by policy-makers, but unless they are informed about this issue they will not resolve it. We have to speak about it and suggest possible solutions. Only then could the laws be revised. I am sure that in our society there will be people who oppose such amendments, as they think migrants are bad for our country. However, those people often forget that migrants are a unique labour resource and in a way a demographic resource which modern Russia really needs.

Findings from a needs assessment survey of labour migrants among people who use drugs in the pilot regions of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

Findings from a needs assessment survey of labour migrants among people who use drugs in the pilot regions of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

30 November 2017

Financial support for this survey was provided through the budget of the project ‘Bridging the Gaps: Health and rights for key populations 2.0’, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. Additional financing agreements with AFEW International as of 1 July 2017 and with the UNAIDS country office in Tajikistan as of 31 July 2017 helped finance the survey.

Our analysis points to a set of problems related to information, as well as social, legal and education issues. People who use drugs face these same problems whilst planning, remaining in and returning from periods of labour migration. A lack of finances and social vulnerability represented key problems faced by migrants when planning their labour migration. A lack of finances hampers access among people who use drugs to complete medical examinations through primary healthcare facilities, HIV testing and TB diagnosis in order to obtain the necessary certificates, including those from HIV centres, drug rehabilitation centres and TB control institutions.

The full version of the report is available here.

AFEW Presents Important Assessments about EECA

AFEW International, together with its network members from Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) is getting ready for AFEW’s Regional autumn school to be held in Almaty, Kazakhstan from October 30 till November 3, 2017. The autumn school will provide the platform for learning, exchange, strategizing and planning for community members and NGO partners from 10 different countries. The regional autumn school is an annual event that takes place as a part of ‘Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations’ regional approach of AFEW.

One of the highlights of the autumn school’s program will be the presentation of three important assessments that AFEW International recently finalized as a part of the ‘Bridging the Gaps’ program. The final results of all assessments will be available to the general public around December of 2017.

Harm reduction friendly rehabilitation

The assessment on harm reduction friendly rehabilitation in EECA is the study that describes the state of rehabilitation services in Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. It presents seven international approaches for rehabilitation programs and its activities. The participants of AFEW’s autumn school will discuss the recommendations of what approach is better to adopt for developing stronger work capacity.

Migrant people who use drugs

The assessment on migrant people who use drugs (PUD) is coming from the questionnaire that was disseminated in the EECA region. A survey amongst 600 people who use drugs in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan showed that 43% of the respondents have experienced periods of migration to another country in the EECA region, mostly to Russia. From the qualitative interviews with migrant PUD in Russia and Kazakhstan, it is possible to assume that people have very little access to health facilities, legal documents and often little options to return to their native country. The participants of the autumn school will discuss the full assessment and come up with interventions for the coming two years to build good practices and to advocate for the rights and lives of the community members.

Shrinking space for the civil society

The assessment on shrinking space for civil society is the in-depth assessment on the space for the civil society organizations with a special focus on harm reduction and drug policy in NGO’s and community networks. The withdrawing of international funding and shrinking space for the civil society form a real threat for the fight against the further spread of HIV in the region and the rights and lives of communities. During the autumn school, the coping mechanisms will be discussed and further steps will be designed to address the conclusions.

One in Sixth People Infected with HIV in Tajikistan This Year is a Migrant

Author: Nargis Hamrabayeva, Tajikistan

Approximately five thousand citizens of Tajikistan, which were found to be infected with HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis during their stay in the territory of the Russian Federation, were declared personae non gratae for lifetime by the government of Russia in June this year. How could this expulsion of infected fellow citizens affect the Republic of Tajikistan?

Generally, after returning from Russia, migrant workers, unaware of their status, may unintentionally put the health of the members of their families at risk by spreading and transmitting infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, believes Takhmina Khaidarova, the head of the Tajik Network of Women (TNW) Living with HIV/AIDS.

“The consequences of transmitting and spreading of infectious diseases depend solely on the will of the state. Providing that a state fully implements their commitments within the framework of the National Strategy for the Response to HIV/AIDS Epidemic for 2017-2020, it would be possible to avoid drastic consequences. If the government of a state cannot conduct awareness-building work about infectious diseases and their transmission amongst their population on adequate level, despite the fact whether or not infected migrants would be deported, the increase of the epidemic will stay high,” she considers.

According to Takhmina Khaidarova, the main problem is the low level of awareness about infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, before the migrants leave the country, during their stay in the host country, as well as on their return to their home country. “Migrant workers have little information and preparation, they are not aware about their status before leaving the country and they do not observe any safety measures during their stay in labour migration. After contracting infectious diseases, they return to their home country and, generally, do not undergo medical examinations; so, unaware of this, they transmit infectious diseases to their sexual partners,” says Takhmina Khaidarova.

She believes that another problem lies in the fear of stigma and discrimination, therefore, migrant workers who have returned do not undergo examination until their health deteriorates considerably.

According to figures provided by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tajikistan, there have been noted 384 cases of citizens infected with HIV in the first quarter of 2017, whereby one in sixth is a migrant, who had left in search of work outside the country. Presently, the total number of people living with HIV-positive status in Tajikistan is around nine thousand.

It should also be reminded that Eastern Europe and Central Asia will be a prime focus in the 22nd International HIV/AIDS Conference in 2018, which will take place in Amsterdam in July 2018.

Central Asian NGOs Built a Network for Cross-Border Control of Tuberculosis

Author: Marina Maximova, Kazakhstan

During the regional seminar-meeting held on 6-7 June in Almaty, Central Asian nongovernmental organizations established a network of partner organizations to address issues of labour migration and tuberculosis. The participants accepted draft Memorandum of cooperation between non-profit organizations to reduce the prevalence and incidence of tuberculosis among migrant workers in the countries of the region.

“This document was created in response to the need of NGOs consolidation to educate migrant workers about TB symptoms and the opportunities of free treatment and diagnostics in the framework of the project, to promote treatment compliance, to exchange information and to disseminate best practices in the countries of Central Asian region,” says a project manager of the Global Fund, a representative of Project HOPE in the Republic of Kazakhstan Bakhtiyar Babamuratov.

The event was organized by the Project HOPE in the framework of the grant from Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan attended the seminar .

Migrants do not want to be treated

From all the countries in the Central Asian region, Kazakhstan is accommodating the main stream of migrant workers from neighbouring countries. Migration flow continues to grow. Those who come to find a job often agree to any work, they often live in poor housing conditions and do not eat well. This results in tuberculosis development. In 2016, 753 external migrants addressed the organizations of primary health care and TB facilities of Kazakhstan and were tested for tuberculosis. In 2015, there were only 157 visits. Most migrant workers prefer not to attend medical institutions and refuse to be treated in the TB clinics or to be examined by a doctor. They consider it to be a wasting of working time, i.e. money. They have to support families left at home, therefore money is the main reason to come to a foreign country. For the same reason people do not want to spend money on health, even though a Comprehensive plan to combat tuberculosis in Kazakhstan for 2014-2020 involves activities to improve TB services for migrant workers.

Particularly alarming are the cases when a migrant worker is diagnosed with HIV/TB co-infection, and when such patient needs a serious treatment and social support. This important topic will be discussed in 2018 in the framework of the 22nd international AIDS conference – AIDS 2018 – in Amsterdam. This conference will be very special as for AFEW International and the whole region where the organization works — Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Work at construction sites and markets

In the situation mentioned above, the participation of the NGOs in addressing of this issue has become very important. Outreach workers and volunteers – people, whom the target group trusts, – are searching for migrant workers on construction sites, at the farms, markets, in the restaurants or cafes. They tell migrants about the disease and the free treatment, convince to pass the examination and to provide social support. The results of such work are impressive.

“Within the project, implemented by Project HOPE in 2016, staff and volunteers of our public Fund helped 898 migrant workers to be tested for tuberculosis. For 25 of them the diagnosis was confirmed, and with our assistance people were able to receive free treatment. Besides, we provided migrant workers with motivational food packages. 8,312 labour migrants received information about the symptoms of tuberculosis, and now they know where to go if they are sick,” says the Director of the Public Fund Taldykorgan regional Foundation of employment promotion Svetlana Saduakasova.

These are the results of the activity of only one non-governmental organization in Kazakhstan. Nowadays, social activists are effectively working in eight regions of the country. Such results are possible to achieve only thanks to active collaboration with the non-governmental organizations from those countries where work migrants come from. The community members actively communicate with each other and exchange useful information to be aware of whether the diagnosed person came back to his home city, got registered in the TB clinic, continued to receive treatment, and so on. Only under these conditions we can achieve a complete recovery from TB for each individual and finally stop the growth of morbidity in the region.

Website about Health for Migrants is Available in 13 Languages

 

health-site_engThe information about body, family planning and pregnancy, infections, sexuality, relationships and feelings, rights and law can be found on the website Zanzu – my body in words and images. This projects for migrants was developed by the Flemish Expertise Centre for Sexual Health Sensoa and the German Federal Centre for Health Education (Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung) BZqA. The information is available in 13 languages, including Russian and English.

Information on the website is presented in easy interactive form. Pushing the image brings the reader to other pictures, behind which they can find important information. Section “Dictionary and translations” will provide users with the translations of most widely-used words on the topics mentioned above. On the website there are also contacts of the doctors who help migrants with their health issues.

Besides, on the site there is information for professionals in English, Dutch and French languages. This section contains advice to the foreign professionals on how to talk to migrants and why it is important to discuss their health issues. The content on the website was approved by an international advisory board of European experts in the field of sexual and reproductive health including representatives of WHO.

Join AFEW in the European Networking Zone in Durban

thumb_homepage_mobile_appOnly several days are left until the start of the AIDS 2016 Conference that this year is held in Durban, South Africa from 18 to 22 July. AFEW will be present at the conference with its own booth where everyone can leave a wish to be taken to the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 2018.

AFEW booth is situated in the European Networking Zone (ENZ) that is hosted by The European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG), AIDS Action Europe and ECUO. ENZ is part of the Global Village, a space where activists and researchers from the community in Europe will present their work and projects.

Several AFEW activities will be taking part in the European Networking Zone. On July 19 Anke van Dam, AFEW’s Director, will host a question and answer session about the road to AIDS 2018 starting at 15:00 at AFEW booth. Dutch Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights & HIV/AIDS Mr. Lambert Grijns and UN Secretary-General Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Mr. Michel Kazatchkine will be taking part in it. On Thursday, 21 July Anke van Dam will tell about the migrants in Eastern Europe and Central-Asia during “Migrants and Access to Health” panel that will start at 16:00. Click here to view and download the program of the ENZ: IAC2016_ENZ_Programme_small

You can follow the updates from AIDS 2016 Conference on our Facebook and Twitter pages.