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People planning to attend AIDS conference in Montreal still struggling to get visas



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


Taliban celebrate one year anniversary of taking over Afghanistan



Kabul, Afghanistan- The Taliban took to the streets on Monday to celebrate their one-year anniversary since they took over the country last year.

Just over a month after the official announcement that the United States (US) army would withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban took over the capital city, Kabul, on August 15, 2021.

The Afghan army’s swift collapse took the world by surprise, precipitating the fall of Kabul and sending tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and their families into exile.

However, Afghanistan is in the midst of a medical crisis that is worsening by the day, exacerbated by an economy in freefall, the freezing of the country’s assets, and the drying up of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid that flowed into the country for two decades, because the Taliban has taken control.

To make matters worse, the White House on Monday ruled out releasing US$3.5 billion in funds held in the US back to Afghanistan’s Central Bank anytime soon, citing that Al Qaeda’s leadership had taken refuge in the heart of Kabul apparently with the protection of the Taliban government.

“Right now, we are looking at mechanisms that could be put in place to see to it that these US$3.5 billion in preserved assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t make them ripe for diversion to terrorist groups or elsewhere,” said Ned Price, the State Department’s spokesperson.

The issue of the frozen money remains one of the most sensitive questions a year after US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw the last American troops from Afghanistan, leading to the fall of the Western-backed government and the Taliban’s return to power. The White House has been acutely sensitive to the approach of the anniversary, anticipating that it would renew criticism of the chaotic American withdrawal and the restoration of a draconian regime of repression, especially targeting women and girls.

Meanwhile, Thomas West, the American government’s special representative for Afghanistan, said that American officials have engaged for months now with the Central Bank about how to shore up Afghanistan’s economy but have not secured persuasive guarantees that the money would not fall into terrorist hands.

“We do not have confidence that that institution has the safeguards and monitoring in place to manage assets responsibly, and needless to say, the Taliban’s sheltering of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups,” said West.

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Aung San Suu Kyi Former Myanmar leader gets six more years added to her prison sentence



Naypyidaw, Myanmar- Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s former leader who was toppled in a military coup last year February, has had her prison sentence extended by six more years.

The latest verdict in the series of secretive trials against the Nobel laureate takes her total prison term to 17 years.

On Monday, she was found guilty of misusing funds from a charity and leasing government-owned land at discounted prices.

“The Myanmar military junta’s unjust conviction and sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi is part of its methodical assault on human rights around the country. The military’s willingness to forcibly disappear the country’s high-profile civilian leader reveals the brutality that lesser-known political prisoners face,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Prior to Monday’s sentence, the Nobel laureate had already been sentenced to 11 years in prison for corruption, incitement against the military, breaching COVID-19 rules and breaking a telecommunications law.

The 77-year-old has since been hit with a series of charges, including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud and faces decades in prison if convicted on all counts.

In June, Suu Kyi was transferred from house arrest to a prison in the capital Naypyidaw, where her trial continues in a Courthouse inside the prison compound.

Many of her political allies have also been arrested since the coup, with one Minister sentenced to 75 years in prison.

Life for Suu Kyi has now been restricted to a prison cell measuring about 200 square feet (18.5 square metres). Daytime temperatures can surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit, (37.7 degrees) but there is no air conditioning. When it rains, which is often, water splashes in through windows that have no coverings.

Allies bring her food as well as white-and-brown clothing so she doesn’t have to wear the louse-infested uniforms given to prisoners. Female staff come to her cell and taste her prison food to show her it isn’t poisoned.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, Suu Kyi is one of more than 15 000 people arrested for opposing military rule, and of these, 12 000 remain in detention.

Many have been tortured in interrogation centers and sentenced by military Courts after brief trials where defence attorneys and the public are barred. Convicted prisoners are often transferred to remote prisons, creating additional hardship for them and their families.

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Hip Hop Icon Maestro Fresh Wes Takes Scarborough Back To School!



“MAESTRO FRESH WES”            



                      SCARBOROUGH BACK TO SCHOOL

Toronto, On – Maestro Fresh Wes (Wes Williams) The Godfather of Canadian Hip Hop, is coming home. Thursday, August 25th inside Scarborough Town Centre (beside Maestro’s Star on the Walk Of Fame).  Maestro Fresh Wes will bring home a special inspirational event.  Giving back has always been a part of the iconic artist’s DNA, never forgetting where he came from.   Maestro hopes to encourage young students, parents, and educators to aim for an awesome upcoming school year.   The event is inspired by Maestro’s popular children’s book, “Stick To Your Vision: Young Maestro Goes To School” (co-written by Rhodora Meliton-Vanderpool, illustrations by Leon “Eklipz” Robinson ) 



“When sticking to your vision, it’s important to reach for the sky and by doing that, you will be shooting for the stars.”   

                                                                               Maestro Fresh Wes 



Maestro Fresh Wes has never forgotten his home city of Scarborough.  His journey is deep down personal. The light for this journey has been his own experiences and relationships. The presence of family structure, mentorship and inspirational elementary school teachers has stayed with the artist.  Maestro believes given the right support; kids can work through difficulties to greatness.  Maestro Fresh Wes will continue to lead by example, celebrate learning  and give back to the next generation and the community that has given him so much….  




Meet the iconic Hip Hop artist, actor & author and hear his inspirational stories, August 25th.   



**Maestro’s team will be on hand, handing out backpacks & notebooks with live music by DJ Mel Boogie.  Maestro will also sign copies of his book, for sale at event.   




**This special event is supported by:   Scarborough’s ROADSPORT AUTO GROUP and SCARBOROUGH SHOOTING STARS CEBL Basketball team. 


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Media Inquiries: 

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Sasha Stoltz | | 416.579.4804 



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