The Global Network of Young People Living with HIV (Y+ Global) and its partners African Girl Child Development and Support Initiative, Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), and Frontline AIDS, are concerned about multiple reports of young people being refused Canadian visas to attend and participate at the AIDS 2022 conference.
The biennial conference this year, takes place in Montreal, Canada, from 29th July – 2nd August, and will be the first in-person global gathering on AIDS since the onset of COVID-19, which has seriously impacted the HIV response. Yet, young people living with, at risk of, and most affected by HIV who have registered to attend the conference in-person, including those who have received the International AIDS Society (IAS) scholarships, have had their visa applications rejected.
One of the reasons provided includes a lack of evidence that the applicants will return to their home country after the conference. All reports that Y+ Global has received so far are from young people based in African and Latin American countries who need to complete complex, lengthy and expensive visa application processes via poorly functioning online portals, presenting special challenges for young people affected by the digital divide. A lack of visa application centers in Burundi and Malawi also means that applicants from these countries must travel to Rwanda and South Africa to submit their biometrics.
“We strongly oppose the complex hurdles that young people living with, at risk of, and most affected by HIV have to jump through to attend a conference that directly impacts our health and lives and the undue scrutiny shown in the review process. I call on the Canadian government to simplify the application process and prioritize visas for young people to ensure our meaningful engagement and leadership at AIDS 2022.” – Tinashe Rufurwadzo, Y+ Global Director of Programmes, Management, and Governance.
COVID-19 has impacted the HIV response and AIDS 2022 is a crucial moment to reshape and redouble efforts to end AIDS, particularly for young people from the African continent who are disproportionately impacted by HIV. It is imperative that they participate in the decisions affecting their health and futures.
Y+ Global and partners galvanized resources to support young people to attend the conference in person, but visa barriers are excluding them from the learning and networking opportunities that the conference offers. Whilst virtual attendance is available, this creates a two-tier system that favors representation from wealthier countries in the global north and relies on the availability and reliability of an internet connection and data access.
The IAS must actively support young activists, particularly those from middle- and low-income countries to access travel visas to enable them to attend the conference in Montreal, Canada.
“We urge that decisions on conference venues acknowledge and consider the levels of scrutiny and barriers that communities of people living with and affected by HIV continuously face in our quest to represent in our own voices and lived experiences, and ask IAS to commit to hosting a greater number of future conferences in the countries most affected by HIV.”- Florence Riako Anam, Programme Manager, Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+)