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Russian activists call for end to restrictions on HIV+ visitors

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A 1995 law that bans people living with HIV or AIDS from staying in Russia for more than three months should be overturned, gay rights activists in the country have said.

The Russian government currently asks the HIV status of anyone requesting a visa.

In three letters sent to the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitri Medvedev, the Prime Minster, Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov, the activists ask for the cancellation of article 10 of the law on prevention of distribution of HIV in Russia.

The law, which was signed by former President Yeltsin, does not apply to diplomats and members of international organisations.

Russian consulates request a compulsory HIV test within one year from any foreigner applying for a visa which requests a stay above three months.

“Requesting HIV status in a visa application can be considered as an intrusion to private life in the definition of article 8 of the European Convention for Human Rights,” said activist Nicolas Alexeyev.

Russia and Armenia are the only Council of Europe members to impose a partial travel ban to HIV-positive foreigners.

Other countries that ban or limit the right of HIV-positive people to enter their territories are Colombia, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sudan, and Yemen.

In June 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to discriminatory travel restrictions based on HIV status.

People with HIV face problems entering the United States.

At present any foreign national who tests positive for HIV is “inadmissible,” meaning he or she is barred from permanent residence and even short-term travel in the United States.

In October the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it will issue regulations which purport to “streamline” the waiver application process for HIV-positive short-term visitors.

President Bush signed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Act, which lifts the ban on HIV positive people from entering the United States.

Gay group Immigration Equality said that under the new rules a short-term traveller must meet twelve stringent criteria “that impose unnecessary burdens on HIV+ travellers and continue to stigmatise those living with HIV.

Some criteria are inconsistent with current medical knowledge of HIV transmission and treatment.

Visitors who take up the waiver do not have the right to apply for a green card from within the United States – even if he or she marries a US citizen.

Department of State consular officers will make decisions on waivers.

The ban originates from 1987, when fear about the spread of the disease led US officials to require anyone with HIV to declare their status and apply for a special visa.

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