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14 Chinese Men Lock Arms at Airport, Seeking Asylum

April 18, 1991

MIAMI (AP) _ Fourteen Chinese men, some claiming to be Tianamen Square revolutionaries, were in immigration custody Thursday after they locked arms at an airport and tearfully asked for political asylum.

The young men were deported from the Bahamas on Wednesday and arrived at Miami International Airport’s transit lounge to await for a flight that would take them to London, and then back to China.

But in the lounge, they raised signs asking political asylum, then locked their arms and laid down on the floor, many of them weeping.

One of the men, apparently famished and dehydrated, fainted and was treated by paramedics. He refused to be taken to the hospital.

″They wouldn’t move,″ said Jenny Nunez-Montero, Pan Am duty manager. ″They were very frightened.″

Police, Pan Am employees and immigration officials were called to the scene but couldn’t budge them. After about 30 minutes, they were able to coax the asylum-seekers, through a Chinese interpreter, into a room away from other passengers.

The men initially refused to go to the Krome Avenue Detention Center, where illegal aliens are taken when caught entering the country, but with the help of the interpreter and two attorneys who arrived on the scene, they agreed to go. Immigration officials said Thursday the men might be freed while they pursue political asylum.

″I may wind up giving them parole, as we did with the last group of Chinese seeking asylum,″ said Richard Smith, head of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service here. ″But they will be treated exactly as we handle anyone else.″

″They come seeking freedom,″ said Michael Ciu, who served as an interpreter of attorney Jorge Lopez. ″They are very happy to be here. But they are very scared.″

The asylum-seekers told Lopez they had spent six days in the Bahamas before being deported. They said they had not eaten in days and had not bathed since they got to the island. It was unclear how they got to the Bahamas.

Lopez said the men are seeking asylum because of their involvement in the Tiananmen Square democracy uprising two years ago, which was violently suppressed by troops.

″We wanted to make sure they stayed here, in this country,″ said William Sanchez, Lopez’s partner, who found out about the asylum-seekers from one of their family members in New York. ″Here they have a right to apply for asylum.″

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