As many as 30 delegates who attended the AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne are seeking asylum in Australia. The delegates, who are mostly from African countries, have refused to fly home out of fear of persecution when they return.
The delegates are reported to hail from Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.
"They're very predictably from those countries where often their lives are at risk, not only from the disease but from the political violence [aimed] towards them," Asylum Seeker Resource Center Campaign Coordinator Pamela Curr told TIME, adding that case workers at the center have begun assisting the delegates, lodging them in housing agencies while they wait for support with visa rights.
All the delegates have valid visas, but Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been enforcing a stricter policy on immigration, making it "currently extremely difficult to get asylum," said Curr. "An asylum seeker in this country is at the absolute bottom of the ladder when it comes to human rights."
In addition to the ASRC, HomeGround, an emergency accommodation organization, is also helping 19 delegates find shelter while they wait out their visa.
This isn't the first case of African delegates attempting to seek asylum in another country. In 2006, more than 130 South African delegates remained in Canada, seeking shelter after attending the Toronto AIDS conference.
In Australia, the current policy dictates that asylum seekers who arrived by sea must be taken to internment centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. However, because these delegates arrived by plane, they're not subject to immediate deportation, and instead, they could wait up to two years for their individual cases to be heard.