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Would-be Refugees Return Home With Cautious Hope for Better Times

September 27, 1994

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Would-be refugees Rita Petit and Veness Joseph came home with a newborn son and cautious hopes that the U.S. military occupation will bring peace and stability to Haiti.

″I’m happy to be back. This is home,″ Petit, 23, said Monday as the Coast Guard dropped her off at Port-au-Prince harbor. ″I feel protected because the U.S. troops are here.″

With few possessions and little more than the clothes on their back, she, her husband, Veness, and their 18-month-old son had set sail from Haiti on July 4. They were picked up at sea day later and taken to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On Monday, a month after their son Frantz was born, they returned, joining 217 other Haitians who had voluntarily left the base that is crowded with thousands of Haitian and Cuban refugees.

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter with another 142 refugees was scheduled to dock here today.

U.S. Ambassador William Swing was at the dock Monday with the commander of the week-old U.S. military intervention, Lt. Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton. ″This is, in effect, a reverse of the flow of what we had several weeks ago when people were leaving Haiti in unseaworthy crafts,″ Swing said.

Maybe so, but many of the refugees looked glum and confused as they stepped off the cutter Northland and headed to the bus station for rides to shantytown homes they hoped they had left for good.

″I chose to come back because the conditions are difficult and rough in Guantanamo,″ said Joseph, whose family sold virtually all its possessions, including the goats, to raise money for the initial departure from Haiti.

″I did not want to put my children through this.″

Joseph, 24, said the presence of U.S. troops did not bother him. ″Besides, my son is an American″ he said, referring to the baby born on the U.S. military base.

They and others perked up after the Haitian Red Cross took them to the bus station and gave them each the equivalent of $15 - more than a week’s pay for many Haitians.

Hope for political change also was a factor in their decision to come back.

″We were told that (exiled President Jean-Bertrand) Aristide would return and that the Haitian crisis will be over,″ Joseph said. ″I sincerely believe that if the political situation was resolved, everybody at Guantanamo would return.″

Another refugee, Patricia Mondesir, said similiar hopes inspired her to return with her three children, who range in age from six to 10.

″We left because of persecution,″ the 30-year-old mother said. ″At Guantanamo, they said that President Aristide is coming back, so that’s why we want to return.″

Unlike refugees forced to return to Haiti in the past, those who came back Monday were not greeted by hostile, mocking crowds.

Instead, they were met by people looking for information about relatives and friends who had left Haiti on makeshift boats in recent months.

There are about 14,000 Haitians at Guantanamo. The Clinton administration wants as many as possible to agree to go home.

Many say they intend to stay until the military leaders who ousted Aristide three years ago step down, which is supposed to happen by Oct. 15.

The Clinton administration set up the camp at Guantanamo on June 27 when it ended the policy of automatically returning all Haitian boat people intercepted at sea. Since, nearly 6,000 Haitians detained at Guantanamo have returned voluntarily.

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