Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Azur Riki endured immigration process to speak to Lutherans in the USA

July 15, 2008
Women of ELCA, GME Guest Endures Immigration Process, Arrives in U.S.

SALT LAKE CITY (ELCA) -- Azur Riki was one of several
international guests invited to the Women of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Seventh Triennial Gathering
here July 10-13, to share stories about her life and church. But
getting here was an endurance test for Riki, who worked through
the complexities of the U.S. immigration system, made even more
complex because she is living with HIV.

Riki, a member of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria,
lives in Jos, Nigeria. She arrived here July 12 after she was
granted a visa by the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. Riki had
traveled to the U.S. embassy three times to get a visa beginning
with her first visit June 18, and was denied each time, she said
in an interview with the ELCA News Service. She was notified on
July 10 that her visa was granted, after she and others thought
her visa request would not be approved. ELCA staff helped
arrange her trip to the United States.

Riki will also be a guest and speaker at the ELCA Global
Mission Event, July 17-20, at the University of Wisconsin,
La Crosse.

Riki is a widow with two children, ages 5 and 11. Her
husband was HIV positive and died in 2002. She is supporting
herself and her family today, thanks to the programs of the
Mashiah Foundation, Jos. The foundation operates a holistic
HIV/AIDS education, prevention, testing, counseling and health
program ministry, including the Women of Hope Program, which
serves 140 women who are HIV-positive. The foundation is
supported by gifts from ELCA congregations and through ELCA
Global Mission.

The Mashiah Foundation receives funds from the President's
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program initiated
under U.S. President George W. Bush. The ELCA supports PEPFAR,
which must be reauthorized this year, and has advocated for
increased funding and policies in a new bill.

This week the U.S. Congress is expected to take up global
AIDS reauthorization, said Kim Stietz, director for international
policy, ELCA Washington Office. One of the improved policies in
the proposed PEPFAR reauthorization is repeal of the permanent
travel ban against people living with HIV, she said. The ELCA,
through its Washington Office, and 16 other churches and church
organizations signed a letter last week urging U.S. Senators to
repeal the travel ban.

People living with HIV, such as Riki, can be considered for
certain types of visas to enter the United States, but the
process is laborious and complicated, Stietz said. In Riki's
case, she traveled to Lagos, a 12-hour journey, and to Abuja, a
three-hour journey, multiple times to secure the proper documents
but was denied an entry visa, she said. That is until staff of
the U.S. State Department apparently intervened, following
efforts by ELCA staff and others working on Riki's behalf. Riki
is not the only Nigerian who has faced this difficulty with
visas, said Bayo Oyebade, director, Mashiah Foundation.

"The irony is that individuals like Riki are literally alive
because of the AIDS treatment they received through PEPFAR, yet
they're being denied the opportunity to tell Americans how good
the program is because they're HIV positive," Stietz said.
"There's no public health justification for placing travel
restrictions on HIV positive people."

"It (the law) only increases stigma and discrimination
against people who are HIV positive. We know how to prevent the
spread of the disease -- it's through education and prevention
not border control," Stietz said.

After many unsuccessful efforts to get Riki to this summer's
ELCA events, no one is entirely sure why Riki was suddenly
granted a visa to enter the United States, Stietz said. But she
is grateful.

"I'm really happy to get myself here," Riki said. "I never
dreamed I would be in this country. It's not easy for a woman
living with HIV. But I thank God because of the Mashiah
Foundation. That is how I got to America today. I thank God for
PEPFAR. They have provided the drugs for us to take, and to take
care of our health."


Information about the Global AIDS bill reauthorization is at
http://tinyurl.com/6oybtb on the ELCA Web site.
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog

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