HIV, human rights and migration: Narratives of HIV-positive asylum seekers in Scotland

George Palattiyil, Dina Sidhva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Political instability, armed unrest, religious intolerance, human rights violations, ethnic conflict and environmental disasters that threaten one’s life, displace people and often compel them to seek asylum elsewhere. Over the years, the UK has been a major recipient of asylum seekers, some of whom have come to Scotland, especially since 2000, and among these there are a number who present health issues including being HIV-positive. HIV-positive asylum seekers experience poverty, isolation, vulnerability, stigma and discrimination, which when coupled with a lack of appropriate medical care and support, have the potential of adding another layer on the denial of fundamental human rights and further stigmatising people who are already fleeing circumstances threatening their very existence. This paper discusses findings from a recent study that examined the lived experiences of HIV-positive asylum seekers since their arrival in Scotland. A flexible qualitative research design that included in-depth interviews that used life history and a phenomenological approach was adopted. Underpinned by ethics approval, nineteen HIV-positive Black African asylum seekers were recruited through third sector organisations in Glasgow, Scotland. Additional data were gathered from two emotive and discursive focus group meetings. Findings were developed using narrative analysis. The accounts of the asylum seekers reflect continued fear of stigma in the face of HIV disclosure, but also pervasive poverty and inequality. Their experiences include denial of rights to family and security, fear of being detained and deported, denial of appropriate medical care, symptoms of post-traumatic disorder and the culturally insensitive and sometimes inhumane attitude of the UK Immigration Agency. These themes depict an everyday struggle in a context of denial of support and risk of potential deportation to a country where HIV treatment is limited or inaccessible. Their narratives also attest to the life-giving, unstinting care and support they receive from a handful of voluntary agencies and one specialist HIV clinic in Scotland. The findings from this study raise issues for a debate about the treatment of HIV-positive asylum seekers in Scotland. Poverty, inequality, stigma and discrimination continue to pose difficulties in accessing care and treatment and wider community integration. Often treated in a piecemeal and ‘service-siloed’ fashion, the needs and human rights of HIV-positive asylum seekers require a greater, more holistic practice and policy attention.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Human Rights and Social Work
Early online date3 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 May 2021


  • HIV
  • human rights
  • migration
  • vulnerability
  • stigma
  • discrimination


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