Haitians' asylum bids mishandled, lawyers to argue

November 30, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Human rights lawyers will fly to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, today to seek evidence that more than 5,000 Haitian boat people picked up on the high seas by U.S. Coast Guard cutters in recent weeks face unfair consideration of their asylum requests.

The lawyers will argue in a Miami court Monday that the way the boat people are being screened by U.S. immigration officials prevents proper judgment on whether they are refugees with an internationally recognized right to haven outside their own country.

"There are lots of problems," said Ira Kurzban, attorney for the Haitian Refugee Center and the National Civil Liberties Foundation.

Mr. Kurzban accused the Immigration and Naturalization Service of using improperly trained officers who failed to carry out complete hearings or to follow their own procedural guidelines.

Another lawyer said that the location of the INS interviews -- mainly on board the rescue vessels -- prevented an adequate hearing. He claimed that the Haitians were given no access to information about the procedure or the criteria they must meet for recognition as refugees. The United Nations' definition is that a refugee must have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned home.

"We think the procedural safeguards are inadequate," said Arthur C. Helton, director of the refugee project of the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, adding that the Haitians should have legal representation and a right of appeal of their initial INS classification.

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