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AIDS conference delegates seek asylum in Australia

Some 25 delegates to an international AIDS conference held in Melbourne last month fear returning home and will seek asylum in Australia, refugee and welfare agencies said Monday (August 4).

MELBOURNE: Some 25 delegates to an international AIDS conference held in Melbourne last month fear returning home and will seek asylum in Australia, refugee and welfare agencies said Monday (August 4).

HomeGround Services, which helps find crisis accommodation for homeless people in Melbourne, said 14 delegates from African nations -- including Uganda and Tanzania -- had sought their help. "We've had 14 people so far come in," spokeswoman Cathy Beadnell told AFP. "Obviously they have nowhere to live at the moment. They are all moving towards making asylum claims."

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, also in Melbourne, said they believed up to 25 people had sought advice on how to remain in Australia once their visas had expired.

The issue of stigma and discrimination surrounding AIDS -- including in Uganda, where homosexuality remains illegal and punishable by jail terms -- was repeatedly raised at this year's conference. It heard that such laws targeted minorities who bore a disproportionate share of the global pandemic, and created conditions under which HIV can spread.

"Clearly they are delegates that come from countries where to work in the AIDS field is a life-threatening proposition," the centre's Pamela Curr told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "It seems that some of them have been considering whether they think they can survive in their countries of origin, or whether they should try to survive by getting refugee protection in Australia."

Australia's Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not comment, saying through a spokeswoman that individual applications for asylum were not discussed for privacy reasons. "All claims for protection are considered on their individual merits and according to law," the spokeswoman said.

The 20th International AIDS conference, which was addressed by former United States president Bill Clinton and rocker Bob Geldof, was attended by about 13,600 people from more than 200 nations.

It is not the first time visitors have sought asylum in Australia after attending a high-profile event, with 15 players in the 2008 Homeless World Cup football tournament staying on. Forty athletes and officials from the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and 250 pilgrims to World Youth Day festivities in Sydney in 2008 also sought asylum.

Australia denies asylum-seekers who come by boat resettlement, sending them to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, but those who come by plane are not subject to the same conditions.

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