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Haitians Decry Refugees’ Forced Return As Racist With AM-Haiti, Bjt

February 4, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Haitian immigrants on Monday angrily denounced the forced repatriation of their countrymen as a racist betrayal of the American principles of freedom and justice they came here for.

″Had we been any other country - white or Spanish - we would have had a chance,″ said Florence Comeau, a spokeswoman for the Haitian Affairs Committee in the Brooklyn borough, where most of New York’s 300,000 Haitians live.

A few dozen Haitians demonstrated in Times Square on Monday to protest the forced return of refugees. And Mayor David Dinkins urged President Bush to ″rescind this inhumane and irrational policy, which is inconsistent with what this country stands for.″

The repatriations began during the weekend, with 381 Haitians arriving in Port-au-Prince aboard U.S. Coast Guard cutters Monday.

More than 10,000 others await the same fate in a tent city at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They began fleeing Haiti following the Sept. 30 army ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Caribbean nation’s first freely elected president.

″These people think America is a country of freedom, and every day they are talking about Statue of Liberty,″ said Jean-Marc Joseph, a worker at the Haitian Information and Documentation Center, which helps immigrants with paperwork for work permits and other legal matters.

Despite reports of army repression in Haiti, the Bush administration denied the Haitians political asylum, arguing they were fleeing poverty, not political persecution. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week, paving the way for their forced return.

Amnesty International and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees criticized the move.

″A lot of these people who go back are going to be hurt,″ said Edward Lewis, director of the Haitian Community Center in Brooklyn. ″Most of them are political refugees. But Haiti is a black republic, so they are not given the same treatment″ as whites.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Brooklyn, The Rev. Thomas V. Daily, also condemned it.

″I am anguished by the forced repatriation of the Haitians who sought asylum in our country,″ he said in a statement. ″It was not for frivolous reasons that they fled their homeland. They left in desperation because of intolerable violence and oppression.″

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