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ENS - EMM director urges more humane US treatment of fleeing
Worldwide Faith News <email@example.com>
Tue, 09 Mar 2004 14:34:39 -0800
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
EMM director urges more humane US treatment of fleeing Haitians
By Jan Nunley
[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) director
Richard Parkins is urging the U.S. government not to turn Haitian refugees
away from American shores. President George Bush announced on February 25,
"I have made it abundantly clear to the Coast Guard that we will turn back
any refugee that attempts to reach our shore."
Parkins wrote to President Bush to register "deep concern that the US
Government has interdicted and returned close to 1000 Haitians who have
fled this country9s turbulence."
"The US response should not be once of involuntarily returning these
persons to an uncertain and possibly life threatening future," Parkins
said. "To do so violates our tradition as a nation which honors the right
of persons who might have valid refugee claims to have these claims fairly
considered. The current practice of interdicting fleeing Haitian nationals
contradicts international law and further compounds the view that our
nation is unwilling to extend fair treatment to our Haitian neighbors in
their quest for justice and safety."
"One of the most tragic consequences of the escalating violence in Haiti
has been the flight of persons seeking safety from the intolerable mayhem
which surrounds them," Parkins wrote in a statement released March 9. "With
the departure of President [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide, several hundred
Haitians have fled Haiti's violence, only to be intercepted by U.S. vessels
and returned to the violence from which they fled. Considering that the
U.S. Government has already called for all of its personnel to leave Haiti
because of widespread insecurity, clear evidence already exists that Haiti
is not a safe place. Would it not be expected, therefore, that threatened
Haitian nationals would take flight?"
The statement said that EMM "strongly opposes" such treatment, particularly
since the refugees are not given an opportunity to press their claims for
asylum. The policy "sets a dangerous example for other countries to
follow," Parkins said, and violates the UN's refugee convention of 1951,
which protects the rights of those fleeing persecution. The U.S. is a
signatory to the convention.
'Stain of injustice'
"Tragically, the United States has been discriminatory in its treatment of
Haitian asylum aspirants. To continue to treat these persons unfairly
deepens the stain of injustice that already blots our record of protecting
our Haitian neighbors," Parkins continued.
"EMM calls on the U.S. Government to recognize the refugee crisis in Haiti
and to immediately implement steps to expeditiously, fairly, and humanely
respond to this crisis. Elements of this strategy would include unfettered
access to the asylum process, special treatment of especially vulnerable
refugees, and a cessation of measures which compel persecuted Haitians to
face further persecution and suffering by prematurely and forcibly sending
them home," the statement concluded.
History of interdiction
Interdiction by the U.S. Coast Guard of undocumented migrants goes back to
1794, but the country's first mass migration emergency was the so-called
Mariel Boatlift, which lasted from April 21 to September 28, 1980. When
Cuban president Fidel Castro permitted any person who wanted to leave Cuba
<http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/index.cfm?id=2461> free access to depart
from the port of Mariel, approximately 124,000 Cubans departed on a
flotilla of mostly U.S. vessels in violation of U.S. law. On September 29,
1981, President Ronald Reagan suspended the entry of undocumented migrants
to the U.S. from the high seas.
Between 1991 and 1995, there was a dramatic increase in the number of
Haitian migrants interdicted by the Coast Guard following an attempted coup
in Haiti <http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/index.cfm?id=2872> in 1991. In
1992, President George H.W. Bush directed the Coast Guard to interdict them
at sea, and return them to Haiti. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a challenge
to the policy made on the basis of the 1951 refugee convention.
For six months, starting in July 1994, President Bill Clinton declared the
U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, a "safe haven" where all fleeing
Haitians would be held temporarily following a military coup which removed
Aristide from power. But after U.S. forces restored Aristide, the Haitians
were sent back with no screening of possible refugee claims.
--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service.
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