June 20 – Mark

“I’m Mark Jongebloed, I recently graduated from the University of New England and I’m completing my practical legal training requirements at HALC. I’m pretty excited to be doing that, as I’ve known about HALC and the work they do for years because the interaction of HIV and the law affects my community.”

Although I know HIV doesn’t discriminate, one of the most surprising things I’ve found since working at HALC is that there are more heterosexual clients than I expected. I think that’s great – in Australia HIV services tend to target the LGBTI community as they are a significant demographic. HALC makes sure that no one gets left behind by facilitating access to the justice system for everyone affected by HIV.

One of the most significant cases that I’ve dealt with is Jerry*, a heterosexual man living with HIV. He has been found by Australia to be a refugee, because he is likely to be persecuted in his home country as a result of his HIV status. He has an Australian child. Due to his mental illness not being diagnosed and treated for a number of years, he has ended up with a substantial criminal history. The Department of Immigration are seeking to withdraw his visa on the basis of his criminal history despite him never having committed a crime since he started getting treatment for schizophrenia, 10 years ago!

Because Jerry has been found to be a refugee he is looking at the prospect of remaining in immigration detention centre indefinitely. If he is returned to his country of origin he faces the prospect of not receiving treatment for his HIV or mental illness, which would result in a rapid deterioration in his health and ultimately death. Currently we’re making submissions to the Department of Immigration in relation to his criminal record, and why his circumstances are such that he should be permitted to stay in Australia.

My contribution as a paralegal in this matter is only incredibly small, but it’s very significant to me because Jerry’s circumstances mean he is one of the most marginalised members of our community.

*names of clients changed to protect their confidentiality

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