Illegal Migration Bill could be ‘death sentence’ for people on HIV/AIDS medication, MPs warn

Small boat in the English channel

MPs debating the controversial Illegal Migration Bill have warned that a lack of provision for those receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS would effectively be a “death sentence”. 

Devised to stop small-boat crossings, the bill has come under intense scrutiny for its potential to send LGBTQ+ refugees to countries where they would be prosecuted and possibly sentenced to death. 

If made law, the legislation would see all adults who arrive in the UK after crossing the Channel, or in the back of a lorry, detained for 28 days. They would then be sent back to their country of origin or a third state, such as Rwanda. 

Families with children could also be detained and deported.

On Tuesday (28 March), the bill was debated in the House of Commons for a second day with Scottish National Party MP Alison Thewliss tabling several amendments to “humanise this brutal bill” and make it more “palatable”. 

However, the Glasgow Central MP described the legislation as “so egregious as to be unamendable and unsupportable”. 

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Among the proposed exemptions are children trafficked to the UK, Afghan nationals, those persecuted for their sexuality, victims of torture and people with HIV/AIDS. 

‘Severe risk’ of persecution or death

Amendment 282 would exempt people who have HIV/AIDS because, as Thewliss told the chamber, “the bill puts them at risk of not receiving treatment or of being returned to a country where they would face stigma, risk and potentially death”. 

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Thewliss’ amendments follow extensive debate the previous day, where she told parliament that she had several constituency cases where people receiving HIV/AIDS treatment have their condition under control but the “government cannot guarantee that they will be able to continue their treatment” if they are deported to another country.

“Returning to a country where that condition cannot be managed is tantamount to a death sentence,” she said.

Labour MP Florence Eshalomi, the co-chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV/AIDS, noted during Thewliss’ speech on Tuesday that the UK is currently working to end new transmissions by 2030 and is one of the co-founders of the Global Fund, an organisation to help prevent and treat the conditions. 

“Does [Thewliss] agree that, in denying help to people who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, the bill runs contrary to all those aims?” the MP for Vauxhall asked. 

Thewliss responded: “We have a responsibility here, but the way in which the bill is drafted takes no account of people’s health circumstances.  It could put people at severe risk if they are sent back or denied treatment.” 

At this, immigration minister Robert Jenrick, shook his head. 

“The minister shakes his head,” Thewliss continued, “but the Home Office has form in denying people who receive medication to manage their condition, the treatment they are entitled to in detention, which is where it wishes to place people.” 

The SNP MP outlined that the National Aids Trust highlighted the case of a person who was detained at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre and denied access to their medication and how they needed to take it. 

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“If the government are going to deny people entry and detain them, what is the guidance? What guarantees can the minister give that those with HIV/AIDS will be able to access the treatment that is keeping them alive?” Thewliss asked. 

In a statement shared on Twitter, the National Aids Trust said: “We have serious concerns that the #IllegalMigrationBill will have a disproportionate impact on asylum seekers living with HIV. The government must take this into account in their impact assessment of the bill.”

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