The United Nations’ top refugee official met with President Clinton on Thursday and appealed to him to allow more Haitian refugees to remain in the United States.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said the Clinton Administration’s estimate that only 5% of the refugees are likely to qualify for political asylum is far too low. She urged the United States to give at least temporary refuge to all Haitians who seek it.
“Sending people back to an area where there is repression and a threat to their lives is against the principle of refugee protection,” she said in an interview before her White House meeting with Clinton.
“It is very important that the United States hold a policy of not returning people to Haiti . . ,” she said. “There is generalized violence in Haiti. Returning people there is like returning people to Bosnia.”
She suggested that the Administration could provide “temporary protection” to refugees without necessarily offering all of them the right to live in the United States permanently.
Clinton has maintained a George Bush Administration policy of intercepting Haitian refugees at sea and sending virtually all of them back home--even though he denounced the practice as “immoral” during his 1992 campaign. The President and his aides have said that admitting Haitians to the United States could produce a huge influx of the refugees, often called boat people because of the rickety craft they employ to flee their homes.
Earlier this week, Clinton changed the policy, permitting all Haitian refugees to be offered a hearing--either aboard ships or in other countries--to determine whether any are genuine political refugees.
But both the President and his aides said they had no plan to open the doors of the United States to the vast majority of Haitian refugees. They said they expect only about 5% of Haitian refugees to qualify for asylum. And they have asked Canada and other countries to accept some of those.
Ogata said her agency, however, believes the 5% figure is too low, because it is based on Haitians who have applied for asylum at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. “We think there are genuine political refugees who are afraid to apply at the embassy,” an aide said.
Ogata said the Administration has asked her agency to run the refugee camps envisioned in Clinton’s new screening policy and has asked other countries to accept some of the refugees. A U.S. official confirmed the request was made of Canada, France and some Caribbean nations but said that none has agreed to do so.
“I don’t think you can expect other countries to do that and not offer them a place yourself,” she said.