U.S. Accused of Complicity in Repression of Fleeing Haitians

From Associated Press

The head of an international human rights group has accused the United States of complicity in Haiti's repression, saying Washington is rushing to turn over victims to their persecutors.

The accusation by Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, came in advance of the release today of a report criticizing U.S. immigration policy toward Haitians who have sought to flee their homeland since a 1991 coup.

The 37-page report, titled "No Port in a Storm," chronicles the effects of a decision by former President George Bush and President Clinton to ship back home all Haitian refugees captured at sea without first determining whether they are fleeing economic hardship or political persecution.

The report and Roth denounced as slow and inconsistent the U.S. effort to interview asylum-seekers inside Haiti.

Americas Watch, the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees and the Jesuit Refugee Service compiled the report with information as recent as mid-September.

The Associated Press obtained an advance copy of the report and spoke with Roth by telephone Friday from New York, where Human Rights Watch is based.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Maeve Dwyer said Saturday there would be no comment on the report until officials had seen a copy. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials could not be reached.

Roth said Washington's immigration policy toward Haitians "makes the U.S. government complicit in the ongoing repression taking place in Haiti by essentially handing back the victims to their persecutors."

The report urges Congress to investigate the State Department management of the immigration program inside Haiti and asks Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to begin reviewing case decisions for the Justice Department.

"The U.S. government has played a central role in the refugee crisis, going out of its way, on the high seas, to actively deny safe haven--and has called it 'rescue,' " the report concluded.

"It has further established an in-country processing program that cannot . . . serve as an adequate response to the needs of Haitian asylum-seekers."

From June 1, 1992, through Aug. 3, 1993, U.S. officials in Haiti heard 2,785 asylum appeals, approving only 38. Only nine of the Haitians had entered the United States, the report said.

In interviews in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and interior cities, people conducting research for the report cited beatings and arrests by army auxiliaries of Haitians waiting on a U.S. asylum decision.

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