MONTREAL — International AIDS organizations say people from Africa, South America and Asia who are planning to attend a major AIDS conference in Montreal are still struggling to get visas from the Canadian government.
The groups say a growing number of activists — including some who were scheduled to speak at the conference which begins at the end of the month — are having their visa applications denied, often on the grounds that the Canadian government doesn’t believe they’ll return home after the event.
Tinashe Rufurwadzo, the director of programs, management and governance at Y+ Global, an international organization of HIV+ youth, said the chair of his organization’s board and another of its employees, who are based in Malawi and Kenya, are among the young activists who have been denied visas to attend the conference.
He said both have travelled extensively to speak at AIDS-related events.
“Personally, I’m sick and tired of seeing young people from Africa mostly portrayed on PowerPoint slides as pictures, as photos on banners, as footnotes on case studies. Why can we not have them at conferences to share their lived experiences of what exactly is happening?” he said in an interview Friday.
Rufurwadzo said representatives of populations most at risk of HIV — such as people who inject drugs, transgender women, sex workers and gay men — need to be able to participate, as do adolescent girls, who are increasingly affected by HIV.
If people from the most affected countries aren’t able to attend, he said he doesn’t know how realistic the learning at the conference will be.
While those whose applications are denied will be able to attend the conference virtually, Rufurwadzo said that won’t allow the same level of participation. He also said young people, especially those from rural areas, may not have consistent access to the internet.
Last week, almost 250 organizations from around the world sent a joint letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser calling on him to take action to ensure participants can attend the International AIDS conference.
Aidan Strickland, a spokesman for Fraser, said in response to earlier questions from The Canadian Press that the department has been working closely with event organizers and that applications “have been assessed in a timely manner.”
“While we cannot comment on the admissibility of any particular individual, we can say that, in general, all visitors to Canada must meet the requirements for temporary residence in Canada, as set out in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” Strickland said in an email. “All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria.”
Javier Bellocq, an Argentine who runs a community journalism project called the Key Correspondent Team which focuses on people living with HIV and high-risk groups, said from the stories he’s heard, it seems like each Canadian consulate is applying different rules.
In some places, he said, applicants have been required to pay for medical examinations as part of the visa process.
“The conference, in theory, arranged with the Canadian government that there will not be medical examinations, but there are, there are many medical examinations.”
Of a group of 40 Argentines, including Bellocq, who are planning to participate in pre-conference activities, only two have received visas so far, he said.
Tumie Komanyane, who runs programs for international NGO Frontline AIDS in South Africa, said groups she works with were planning to help more than a dozen young people attend the conference, but decided not to even bother applying for 10 visas after the first four applications were rejected.
Komanyane said she’s aware of other young people from the region, including some who had scholarships to attend the conference funded by the Canadian government, who have had their visa applications denied.
“It’s incoherent,” she said in an interview Saturday. “With the strides that Africa is making in the HIV field, all the lessons and evidence that could be coming from the beneficiaries directly is going to be lost.”
While she works with young people, she said, she doesn’t want to speak for them.
“They have agency, they have voice, and they shouldn’t be represented by people like me. They should be able to go and share what this work means for them,” she said.
Bellocq said he’s not worried about himself, noting the Argentine passport is relatively powerful and he’s a professional who has been travelling internationally form more than 30 years. But he worries about people from countries with less passport privilege and members of marginalized groups who are at high risk of HIV.
With pre-conference events starting in just over three weeks, he said, “time is not on our side.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
New Pompeii finds highlight middle-class life in doomed city
ROME (AP) — A trunk with its lid left open. A wooden dishware closet, its shelves caved in. Three-legged accent tables topped by decorative bowls. These latest discoveries by archaeologists are enriching knowledge about middle-class lives in Pompeii before Mount Vesuvius’ furious eruption buried the ancient Roman city in volcanic debris.
Pompeii’s archaeological park, one of Italy’s top tourist attractions, announced the recent finds on Saturday. Its director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said the excavation of rooms in a “domus,” or home, first unearthed in 2018 had revealed precious details about the domestic environment of ordinary citizens of the city, which was destroyed in 79 A.D.
In past decades, excavation largely concentrated on sumptuous, elaborately frescoed villas of the Pompeii’s upper-class residents. But archaeology activity in the sprawling site, near modern-day Naples, has increasingly focused on the lives of the middle class as well as of servants and other enslaved people.
“In the Roman empire, there was an ample chunk of the population that struggled with their social status and for whom ‘daily bread,’ was anything but a given,” Zuchtriegel said. ”A vulnerable class during political crises and food shortages, but also ambitious about climbing the social ladder.”
The finds unveiled on Saturday include furnishings and household objects in the domus, which was dubbed the House of the Larario for an area of a home devoted to domestic spirits known as lares. The home unearthed in 2018 has one in the courtyard.
Zuchtriegel noted that while the courtyard also had an exceptionally well-adorned cistern, “evidently, the (financial) resources weren’t enough to decorate the five rooms of the home.” One room had unpainted walls and an earthen floor apparently used for storage.
In a bedroom, archeologists found the remains of a bed frame with a trace of fabric from the pillow. The kind of bed is identical to three, cot-like beds unearthed last year in a tiny room in another residence that archaeologists believe doubled as a storeroom and sleeping quarters for a family of enslaved inhabitants of Pompeii.
The bedroom findings announced Saturday also included the remains of a wooden trunk with an open lid. Although the weight of beams and ceiling panels that crashed down in the wake of the volcanic explosion heavily damaged the trunk, among the objects found inside was an oil lamp decorated with a bas relief depicting the ancient Greek deity Zeus being transformed into an eagle. Nearby was a small, three-legged round table, similar to the accent tables in vogue today.
Exposing the storeroom revealed a wooden closet, its backboard still intact but the shelves caved in. Archaeologists believe the closet had at least four panel doors and held cookware and dishes for the nearby kitchen. The excavators found a hinge from the enclosure.
Other objects found in the house include a large fragment of what had been a translucent, rimmed plate in brilliant hues of cobalt blue and emerald, and a well-preserved incense burner, shaped like a cradle.
Frances D’emilio, The Associated Press
Surprise Senate vote would overturn Biden environmental rule
By Matthew Daly in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a surprise victory for Republicans, the Senate on Thursday voted to overturn a Biden administration rule requiring rigorous environmental review of major infrastructure projects such as highways, pipelines and oil wells — an outcome aided by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Manchin, a key player on energy and climate issues and a swing vote in the closely divided Senate, joined Republicans to support the measure, which was approved 50-47. The vote comes as Manchin has proposed a separate list of legislative measures to speed up federal permitting for major projects in return for his support of a Democratic bill to address climate change.
Republicans voted unanimously to overturn the Biden permitting rule, while Manchin was the only Democrat to support it. Three senators were absent: Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. The vote sends the measure to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is unlikely to move forward.
Still, the vote signaled strong Senate support for action to reform the often onerous federal permitting process, which can take up to eight to 10 years for highways and other major projects. Streamlining federal review is a top Manchin and GOP priority that is not shared by most Democrats.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, sponsored the measure to overturn the Biden rule, saying new regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, will further bog down the permitting process and delay critical infrastructure projects the country needs.
The Biden rule — which overturns an action by the Trump administration loosening environmental reviews — requires regulators to consider the likely impacts on climate change and nearby communities before approving major projects. The new requirement “is going to add to the red tape” that prevents major infrastructure projects from being approved in a timely manner, Sullivan said.
While President Joe Biden has called infrastructure a priority — and pushed for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year — the new NEPA rule actually “makes it harder to build infrastructure projects” in the United States, Sullivan said.
“The only people, in my view, who really like this new system are radical far-left environmental groups that don’t want to build anything … and probably the Chinese Communist Party,” he said on the Senate floor. China and other competitors likely “love the fact that it takes 9 to 10 years to permit a bridge in the U.S.A.,” Sullivan said.
The White House strongly opposed the measure and threatened a veto if Congress approves it.
“This action would slow the construction of American infrastructure, lead to the waste of taxpayer resources on poorly designed projects and result in unnecessary and costly litigation and conflict that will delay permitting,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.
Manchin countered that, “for years I’ve worked to fix our broken permitting system, and I know the (Biden) administration’s approach to permitting is dead wrong.”
Manchin called Thursday’s vote “a step in the right direction” but said the measure likely “is dead on arrival in the House. That’s why I fought so hard to secure a commitment (from Democratic leaders) on bipartisan permitting reform, which is the only way we’re going to actually fix this problem.”
The new rule, finalized this spring, restores key provisions of NEPA, a bedrock environmental law that is designed to ensure community safeguards during reviews for a wide range of federal projects, including roads, bridges and energy development such as pipelines and oil wells. The longstanding reviews were scaled back under former President Donald Trump in a bid to fast-track projects and create jobs.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality said in implementing the new rule that it should restore public confidence during environmental reviews. The change could speed development by helping to “ensure that projects get built right the first time,” said CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory.
Projects approved by the Trump administration were frequently delayed or defeated by lengthy court battles from groups challenging environmental reviews as inadequate.
Manchin, who brokered a surprise deal last week on climate legislation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said he’s won promises from Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress to pursue permitting reforms in the Senate to speed approval of projects in his energy-producing state and across the country. Manchin’s wish list includes swift approval of the controversial Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in his home state and Virginia. The pipeline is nearly complete but has been delayed for years by court battles and other issues.
Manchin’s list includes a number of proposals supported by Republicans, including a two-year deadline on environmental reviews; changes to the Clean Water Act; limitations on judicial review; and prompt action on projects determined by the Energy secretary to be in the national interest.
Environmental groups have decried Manchin’s proposals as counter-productive to the climate legislation and a threat to the environment and communities where projects would be built.
Madeleine Foote, deputy legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters, dismissed the Senate vote Thursday as “nothing more than a Republican-led stunt to appease their fossil fuel-industry allies.”
Foote and other environmentalists said strong NEPA review is needed to ensure that those most affected by an energy project have a say in the projects built in their communities.
“Thorough, community-based environmental reviews are critical to helping eliminate environmental racism and making sure low-income communities and communities of color are protected from polluters who want to build dirty, toxic projects in their backyards,” Foote said.
She called on Congress to approve the Manchin-Schumer climate bill as soon as possible. Schumer said votes on the bill are likely this weekend.
Kabir Green, director of federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, another environmental group, said Americans are “seeing the effects of climate change in catastrophic detail, from the heat waves in Texas to wildfires in New Mexico to the devastating flooding in Kentucky. But the Senate is voting to prevent the federal government from considering climate change when making decisions. This makes no sense.”
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