AIDS and Refugees

These people leave their countries by reasons of emergencies such as wars, civil conflicts, floods, earthquakes and famines and they generally live in refugee camps. It is stated that basic living requirements of these people are barely provided.

Refugees generally live in unfavorable conditions and they have limited access to certain services. Under these circumstances it is observed that requirements on sexual health might also be ignored. In all studies related to refugees, it is reported that these people suffer from increased vulnerability against sexual harassment.

Stigma, discrimination, social exclusion by reasons of language and cultural differences, separation from regular sexual partners, lack of support and friendship, the need to hide their true identity, problems on access to health and social services result in increased risk of infection with AIDS regarding refugees. Family, community lives are interrupted during and after immigration. Poverty and crisis environment cause people to engage in risky sexual behavior and result in exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. Women are subjected to excessive sexual harassment during immigration. Another aspect of the issue is that women do not have any other option than to use their sexuality for protection, food and money. This predicament increases the risk of HIV/AIDS infection.

An Outlook on AIDS in Refugee Settlements

HIV infections in refugee environments are generally sexually transmitted. Inadaptability of community and family lives might result in breaking of stabile relationships and social norms which manage sexuality. Children and adults might engage in sexual activities to meet their basic requirements such as shelter, security, food and money. Sexual harassment risk which includes raping women, children and men increases during wars, civil conflicts and escaping and refugee conditions. Convicts are also exposed to the risk of sexual harassment.

Refugees are highly exposed to the risk of being sexually harassed by the community. Single women, materfamilias, unaccompanied children, children with foster parents, people under custody found in the refugee group are vulnerable to HIV / AIDS. AS tough it is not openly admitted as a result of cultural barriers, men are also vulnarable sexual harassment and HIV / AIDS.  Another risk group with regard to HIV/AIDS is adolescent refugees. 6.6 million Refugees have been displaced around the world as a result of armed conflicts. They take in the responsibility of themselves and their siblings after they are separated from their families and communities. Under these circumstances adolescents are faced with traumatic life experiences and they try to overcome their newly acquired responsibilities with limited support. Hopelessness, sickness, spare time and poverty are common characteristics of day-to-day life in refugee camps. Social disorder and lack of protection result in sexual harassment including rapes against adolescents particularly against young girls; in engaging sexual activities in exchange of food and access to service and in under-age sexual intercourse. Sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and miscarriages might occur by these reasons. It is observed that 70 % of people with HIV are from southern region of Sahara in Africa and two thirds of these countries are affected by refugee movements. 21.8 million People died from AIDS from the date of its primary spread. Six people under the age of 25 are infected with AIDS every 25 minutes. 5.3 million AIDS cases were observed in the year of 2000. It is estimated that 700.000 adults live with AIDS in Southern and Southeastern Asia in the year of 2000, 12 million children are orphaned as a result of AIDS in Africa and that this figure will rise up to 40 million by the year of 2010.


Components of multi-sector approach to AIDS in refugee communities are as follows:

I.     Establishing HIV/AIDS focal points,

II.  Planning interventions within close consultancy with national HIV/AIDS control program,

III.                       Integration of HIV/AIDS programs to current activities,

IV.Working in coordination, communication and cooperation with other organizations within and between sectors,

V.   Realizing activities with short-term outputs as well as activities with long-term goals by considering the ambiguous and sometimes temporary nature of refugee paradigm,

VI.Ensuring procurement of equal HIV/AIDS services to local and refugee population.

Only a perspective of this magnitude might ensure an integrated approach to HIV/AIDS in refugee settlements.

Table of Authorities

1.   International Organization for Migration. Population Mobility and HIV/AIDS. Programme Info Sheet. September 2003:1,

2.   Ünalan T. Requirements on Immigration and Reproductive Health. “Umuda Doğru” (Towards Hope) Periodical of Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Refugees year 2, issue 5 Ankara: 1998:5-6.

3.   UNHCR. Reproductive Health in Refugee Situations. An Inter-Agency Field Manual. Geneva: 1995:33-38.

4.   UNHCR. Prevention and Response to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Refugee Situations. Inter-Agency Lessons Learned Conference Proceedings, (27-29 March 2001) Geneva: 2001: 62.

5.   Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children Reproductive Health Project. Partnering with Local Organizations to Support the Reproductive Health of Adolescent Refugees A Three-year Analysis. October 2003: 7.

6.   Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Refugee Situations. 2000:10.


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