132 Haitians Return Home Voluntarily

From Times Wire Services

More than 100 Haitians who gave up hope of being granted asylum in the United States and asked to be taken back to their homeland were returned to Port-au-Prince on Friday aboard a Coast Guard cutter.

The 132 Haitians had been living in tents at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"Nobody in the military or none of the immigration folks asked them about it--they just came up and told officials that they wanted to go back," Air Force Staff Sgt. Rick Fligor said.

The Haitians were met in Port-au-Prince by Red Cross officials, who provided them with $15, bus fare home and a Red Cross food card, said Jonel Charles, administrator of the Red Cross office.

United Nations refugee official Domingo Alcalde Estebanez said the U.N. high commissioner for refugees had asked a local church group to keep track of the returnees and to make sure that the military-backed government does not persecute them.

"I asked to come back because I was being held in a military base and had no way of getting in touch with my family," said Roland Saloman, 27, a fisherman from a coastal village who spent more than a month at Guantanamo.

The refugees were the fourth group to return voluntarily to their homeland this month, bringing the total to at least 362.

The departure left more than 6,000 other Haitian refugees living in tent cities at the American base in southeastern Cuba.

Thousands of Haitians have fled the Caribbean nation since a September coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

A court battle is being waged over whether the Haitians should be returned to Haiti, as the U.S. government wants, or be allowed to seek asylum in the United States.

U.S. government officials have argued that the Haitians want to come to the United States for economic, not political, reasons.

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