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Angleterre | Dépistage aux frontières | Steve Cohen

Positively Racist : HIV/AIDS, Racism and Immigration Controls

9 septembre 1997 (MAHA)

MANCHESTER, 9 September 1997 (MAHA)

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by Steve Cohen

"African AIDS : Deadly Threat to Britain" (Daily Telegraph 21.9.1986)

"AIDS : Africa’s Family Disease" (Newsweek, September 1991)

"In a few days time, hundreds of students from Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania will be arriving... costing British taxpayers more than 5 million pounds. A significant proportion will be AIDS carriers." (Sunday Telegraph, October 1986)

One of the more startling recent developments in racist ideology has been the non-scientific, non-medical, nonsensical claim that the HIV virus evolved through exotic African tribal practices. The consequence of this absurdity is that Africans are perceived now as the ultimate transmitters of death. Thus a new justification has arisen for immigration control. Since the hallmark of racism is that all people who are not white are indistinguishable, this anti-black ideology has been directed not only at Africans but at migrants, immigrants and refugees internationally with HIV/AIDS viewed literally as the new global black plague.

Components of racism : sexuality and disease

The ideology of racism, however irrational and bizarre, is not abstract. It rests on the very precise and concrete construction of black people as sexually incontinent and promiscuous. Black people are viewed as being inherently sick and diseased. This perceived moral and physical degeneracy has historically and consistently provided a rationale for immigration control. The recent debate on HIV/AIDS and immigration controls highlights and synthesizes in a very powerful way this equating of black people with the alleged forces of sexual corruption and physical disease.

Black people as sexually degenerate

Throughout the entire postwar period, demand for immigration controls on black people has relied on the characterization of black men and women as sexually promiscuous. The first post-war controls, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962, were preceded by the racist attacks in 1958 in Nottingham and in Notting Hill in London. Sexual allegations were at the forefront. For instance, the fascist Colin Jordan circulated his Black and White News with headlines like "Blacks seek white women" (Times, 3 September 1958). Reporting of the 1958 revolts by "quality" papers was itself prurient, reactionary and racist, emphasizing the rampaging, violent and dangerous sexuality of black people, while the black man was seen as the pimp and scourge of white womanhood. Here is one report from the Manchester Guardian (3 September 1958) :

"The most sordid case was that of an English girl who pretended to be frank with me. She was crossing the street near the tube station taking her brown-skinned son to get an ice cream and she was quite willing to talk tome about what she called her mixed marriage. I asked her about the stories of English girls being forced into prostitution and she scoffed and said there were very few cases and that the whole thing was greatly exaggerated. I noticed that she had two heavy bruises on her left upper arm and a gash on her forehead and this prompted me to watch the doorway of her flat later in the afternoon when her ’husband’ was said to appear. A colored man called for her in a large black Humbler and I followed in my own car. They swung left at Holland Park and ten minutes later she was put out on her ’pitch’ on the pavement in the Bayswater Road. A close-fitting dress covered the bruises and as for the gash on her forehead this was deftly concealed by a tress of bleached hair."

Black people as diseased

Alongside the sexual stereotyping was the image of the black person as an international carrier of disease - to the extent that Black people and bacteria were viewed as almost indistinguishable. Contact with black people was itself presented as fatal by those campaigning for immigration control. Cyril Osborne MP, an obsessive agitator for controls, raised the issue when a smallpox epidemic broke out during winter 1961-62. When it became known that one of the victims was a Pakistani, Osborne claimed : "This weekend’s smallpox deaths would lie heavily on the Labour Party’s conscience. But for their bitter, fanatical opposition, my proposal that all immigrants must have a clean bill of health would have become law" (Daily Express, 16 January 1962).

Controls against Jews

Another reason why the identification of black people with HIV/AIDS is able to synthesize notions of alien sexuality and alien disease is because hostile constructs of sexuality and of disease have, historically, been central to the armory of those advocating immigration controls. The very first controls were contained in the Aliens Act of 1905 which prevented the entry of Jewish refugees. The campaign for this Act emphasized both the supposed corrupting nature of Jewish sexuality and of Jewish disease. Alleged sexual deviancy was the common currency of the agitation for controls. A.T. Williams, a member of the port-fascist British Brothers League, wrote of Jewish immigrants : "I can give you the name of a girl of thirteen who was sent back to her own country enceinte and diseased, and of an English woman forced on the streets because competition by aliens prevented her from earning a living (Jewish Chronicle, 7 February 1902). Likewise, imagery of the Jew as weak, sick, and infectious was all-pervasive. James Silver, another leader of the British Brothers League, argued that unrestricted immigration "grafted onto the English stock and diffused into English blood, the debilitated, the sickly and the vicious products of Europe" (Eastern Post, 2 November 1901).

Internal Controls

The attack on people with HIV/AIDS is global. UK immigration law has not yet reached the stage of mandatory testing leading to compulsory exclusion or deportation. The trajectory of UK immigration law and procedure is in the direction of the internal control and surveillance of migrants, immigrants and refugees, including people with HIV/AIDS. A 1995 headline in the Guardian reported on a court decision on the homelessness legislation : "Judge tells EU citizens that they have no right to housing despite being seriously ill with HIV virus" (5 October 1995). Though this was overruled by the Court of Appeal (Guardian 22 February 1996), it does show the way the wind is blowing for people with HIV/AIDS. The 1989 NHS Charges to Overseas Visitors Regulations states that people with HIV who are not ordinarily resident in the UK must pay for hospital treatment relating to HIV other than for diagnostic testing and counseling. Consequently, the immigration status of all HIV/AIDS hospital patients is to be investigated to determine if they are "ordinarily resident" here. In practice, this will mean that black patients primarily will be investigated. It is at this point of internal control that prejudice and discrimination in respect to HIV/AIDS coincides precisely with the racist prejudices on which immigration controls are built. It is at this point that the fear of sexuality and disease merge with a fear of black people.

Steve Cohen is the director of the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit.

Getting into the UK : Department of Health Immigration Control Instructions

In October 1991, the Department of Health issued an internal document ("HIV infection and AIDS in passengers seeking to enter the United Kingdom") to port Medical Inspectors. On the one hand, this document emphasized that "HIV infection (including AIDS) is not in itself justification for a recommendation on public health grounds to withhold leave to enter the UK." On the other hand, exclusion of those with HIV/AIDS was indirectly sanctioned on cost grounds : "As with other illnesses, if the Medical Inspector considers that an entrant who is subject to immigration control is likely, during his stay in the UK, to require medical treatment for illness associated with HIV infection, the Inspector should provide an estimate of the cost of such treatment in order to enable the Immigration service to decide whether the entrant has the means to meet these costs. This estimate should relate to the cost of treatment."

Staying in the UK : Home Office Secret Instructions

In 1995, the Immigration and Nationality Department at the Home Office issued its own secret, unpublished, set of draft instructions ("AIDS and HIV positive cases"). These deal both with entry and deportation of people with HIV/AIDS. The instructions say that "the fact that a person is suffering from AIDS or is HIV positive is not grounds for refusing entry clearance or leave to remain if the person concerned otherwise qualifies under the Immigration Rules." At the same time, they state that "Equally, the fact that an applicant has AIDS or is HIV positive is not itself sufficient grounds to justify the exercise of discretion where the requirement of the rules are not met." In other words, having HIV/AIDS is not in itself sufficient so-called compassionate grounds for being immune from deportation.TALKING BACK

Contact :
GMIAU (Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit)
400 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester M8 9LE, United Kingdom
Phone : +44 161 740 7722 Fax : +44 161 740 5172Getting in, staying in