By Lisa Vives
While “medical tourism” is filling hospital beds in developing countries with patients priced out of the care at home, western countries are coldly dumping poor people -disconnecting them from life support in some cases – back in their Third World countries to struggle for medicines in short supply or simply to die for lack of care.
Most recently, England has denied life saving health care to an undocumented African woman, ordering her return to Uganda despite an advanced stage of AIDS infection.
It is the second deportation of a terminally ill African woman this year. In January, a woman with cancer was ordered back to Ghana over an expired visa. She died soon after.
In the recent case, the woman, known as “N”, had been diagnosed in 1998 with two illnesses known to be indicators of AIDS. An asylum application was filed on her behalf, noting she had been raped by government soldiers in Uganda because of her association with the Lord’s Resistance Army. The lawyers argued that her life would be in danger if she were returned to Uganda.
Her asylum claim was rejected in March 2001. In the ruling, the British secretary of state determined that all the major anti-retroviral drugs were available in Uganda at highly subsidized prices.
An appeal was entered in her behalf, ultimately reaching the highest UK court, the House of Lords. In their ruling of 2005, the Law Lords were moved by the plight of the woman, but they did not conclude that her deportation would breach her human rights and nor would it be “inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.”
N’s lawyers pursued the case further, with a petition to the European Court of Human Rights. They argued that her deportation would breach Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights as her removal from the UK would lead to her death within two years.
But this final legal avenue has now been closed by the European Court’s dismissal of the appeal.
Lisa Power of the Terrence Higgins Trust said “HIV treatments are not universally available in Uganda. This decision, and others that will follow from it, is cruel and inhumane. HIV treatment is currently being rolled out globally but in many African countries it is still only accessible to a privileged minority, though we expect that to change.”
Deportations have been quickening in the UK and elsewhere in the past few years. In the first quarter of 2006, the UK deported 4,930 people, 43% more than in the same period last year.
At the end of March 2006, there were 1,745 people in detention, pending deportation, up 20% on last year.
“Serious problems remain both in the quality of individual decisions and the context in which they are made,” noted a 2006 report by the UN High Commission for Refugees. The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, which says it is seeing more deported women and children than ever before, believes this is because “women are easy targets, always at home and not likely to put up a fight”. Whereas in 2005 the Home Office took up to six months to arrange a deportation, they pointed out, it can now be done in three days.
The Home Office denies targeting women with children. “If people are in the UK illegally and have exhausted their appeal rights, we will seek to remove them,” says a spokesperson.
Lisa Vives is the Executive Director of the New York-based Global Information Network, which distributes news and feature articles about perspectives on Africa and the developing world that are overlooked or under-reported by mainstream media.