From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ENS - EMM director urges more humane US treatment of fleeing

From Worldwide Faith News <>
Date 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

ENS 030904-3

[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."

'Dangerous example'

"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 
<> 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 <> 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.

To SUBSCRIBE to enslist, send a blank email message, from the address which
you wish subscribed, to:

Send QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS to The Rev. Jan Nunley, deputy director, The enslist is published by
Episcopal News Service: 

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home