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Health Professionals to Immigration Agency: Medical Care Is Not "Terrorism"

by Jennifer Baldé on June 1, 2009

Over 100 health professionals sent a letter (pdf) urging the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security to stop denying entry into the US to health professionals who have treated wounded combatants.

In the letter, the PHR Board, Asylum Network members, and others said the “material support” to terrorism bar to admission is interpreted too broadly and should not be used to deny asylum and other immigration protections to health professionals.

The health professionals signing the letter protested the policy that denies doctors and nurses the opportunity to seek immigration status in the US merely because they have complied with internationally recognized ethical duties to treat anyone who is ill or wounded.

The urgency of this problem is illustrated by recent cases of health professionals who have been forced to seek US protection due to torture or fear of persecution in their home countries have been denied by immigration authorities or or remain in limbo due to the “material support” bar:

  • a Sudanese doctor who, in his role as a humanitarian NGO physician, provided medical assistance to injured members of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA)
  • a Nepalese health worker who is seeking asylum after having been kidnapped by a Maoist group that required him to attend to a wounded rebel
  • a Colombian nurse who was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and forced at gunpoint to provide medical care to its members

The PHR letter emphasized that the current US position conflicts with its obligations under the Geneva Conventions to protect health workers in conflict and with a longstanding US history of condemning violations of medical neutrality.

PHR and all of the letter signers urged DHS to restore the US commitment to medical neutrality by excluding the provision of medical care from the definition of “material support.”



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