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Refugees Say Government Holding Up Return

October 23, 1989

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ Advocates for people displaced by the civil war accused the government Monday of holding up the return of 1,300 refugees suffering illness and exposure because of the delay.

The National Resettlement Coordinator and members of a U.S. churchworkers’ delegation called on the rightist administration of President Alfredo Cristiani to remove all obstacles to the refugees’ return.

The government says it has nothing against the refugees’ return but that they must be documented in Honduras by Salvadoran officials before coming back. The Resettlement Coordinator accused the government ″of prolonging the documentation process″ to delay the refugees’ return.

About 13,000 Salvadorans live in three refugee camps across the northern border in Honduras. Most fled to the camps in the early 1980s because of heavy fighting between leftist rebels and government forces in the northern sector of El Salvador.

More than 7,000 refugees have returned since 1987 to rebuild their lives in the north, still a combat zone in the 10-year-old civil war. The U.S.-backed government considers the returned refugees sympathizers and collaborators of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, the rebel army.

About 1,300 refugees from the Mesa Grande camp had planned to return Oct. 17. The return was to have been coordinated by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.

Col. Carlos Figueroa said Saturday the documentation has begun in Mesa Grande and that as soon as it is finished, the refugees will be allowed to return.

The U.N. commission said it cannot provide transportation and other logistics for return without government approval.

The Resettlement Coordinator’s allegation of government delays was seconded by a delegation of 30 American churchpeople who traveled to Honduras and El Salvador this month to accompany the returnees.

The Rev. Marilyn Chilcote, a Presbyterian pastor from Oakland, Calif., said three people have died in Mesa Grande from exposure since the refugees dismantled their shacks last week in anticipation of departure. She also said an epidemic of Dengue fever has afflicted many refugees.

About 300 refugees accompanied by Salvadoran and U.S. churchworkers left Mesa Grande by foot last week for the border. They reached San Marcos Ocotepeque, where they remain in precarious conditions in a church awaiting documentation, the refugee advocates said.

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