Hundreds of Aids sufferers face deportation

Hundreds of people with HIV/Aids face being sent back to Africa following a decision by the Home Office to allow them to be deported to their home countries.

Given the Government's commitment to help the drive against Aids in Africa, the Government was accused of hypocrisy by depriving people already living in this country of treatment that would prolong their lives.

Ministers argue that allowing them to stay on medical grounds risked attracting so-called "health tourists" to Britain.

Most people with HIV/ Aids who have been refused permission to stay in Britain are for the moment receiving antiretroviral treatments, which should vastly increase their life expectancy. The majority are from African countries such as Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, which have high Aids levels and where antiretrovirals are scarce.

Ruth Bundey, a solicitor representing several people with HIV/Aids, said: "We're seeing appalling hypocrisy from the Government. On the one hand it is extending monetary aid to Africa to help 'make poverty history'. Simultaneously though, it is throwing out individuals who have no hope of medical treatment in their home countries and are therefore being sent home to die."

Lisa Power, head of policy at the Aids charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "It is inhumane to deport somebody to certain death. If they continue to receive antiretrovirals they will maintain their health."

She said that if people with HIV/Aids were allowed to remain in Britain for five years then antiretroviral treatments should by then be widely available across Africa.

A group of charity representatives and solicitors recently met Tony McNulty, the Immigration minister, to appeal for any planned removals to be abandoned. He responded that such a concession would not be tenable as it would "seem unfair to those suffering from other serious medical conditions, both physical and mental".

Last night, however, a spokesman for Mr McNulty said that he was still "looking into" the situation of people with Aids.

The Government, which has been damaged by a succession of disastrous headlines on immigration, faced renewed embarrassment yesterday as it emerged that 646,323 passports have been lost or stolen since December 2003.

A spokesman for the Identity and Passport Service said: "Not all lost or stolen documents will be used in connection with fraud, many will merely be misplaced."

But Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, warned that many of the passports may have fallen into the hands of criminals and, perhaps, terrorists. He said: "It is a worrying loophole in security and a stark warning of the abuses we are likely to see with ID cards."

Meanwhile, Mr McNulty has admitted that it could take a decade to clear the backlog of illegal immigrants in Britain, which are being removed at the rate of 25,000 a year.

Asked how long it would take to deport them all, he said: "Assuming we can find them, and assuming that people aren't going away of their own accord, it would take some time."

Pressed for a figure, he added: "Ten years, if you are saying 25,000 per year."