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U.S. May Force Haiti Refugees to Return Home

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After rejecting a final offer of $80 in cash and the chance for a job if they volunteered to return home, nearly 4,000 Haitian refugees remaining in detention camps at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, faced being shipped home anyway--by force if necessary, officials said Thursday.

As the 4:30 p.m. deadline for accepting the voluntary repatriation offer came and went Thursday, guards at the sprawling base began moving Haitians out of the tent cities and into an airplane hangar for final interviews with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officers. Those refugees who can prove that their lives would be endangered if they return to Haiti--even after the restoration of democracy --may be permitted to enter the United States.

But Miami attorneys for the Haitians expect that few will be found to qualify. “It’s a sham,” said Cheryl Little, one of the lawyers representing the Haitians. “This is not a bona fide attempt to identify refugees. The U.S. government wants to make room for the Cubans who are returning from Panama.”

About 9,000 Cuban refugees are being detained in Panama, which agreed to give them haven after last summer’s rafting exodus from the island nation. But Panama set a time limit of six months--which expires in March--and the refugees are expected to be taken to Guantanamo, where 23,000 other Cuban refugees are being detained in tent cities.

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