U.N. reports instances of Haitians who escaped twice to flee repression

February 16, 1992|By New York Times News Service

MIAMI -- United Nations officials said yesterday that interviews at a U.S.-run refugee camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are turning up numerous cases of Haitians who fled their country and were intercepted and returned, only to flee a second time from what they said was repression by the army or police.

The statements from these people, gathered by officials from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, contrast starkly with the Bush administration's position, repeated in arguments before the Supreme Court Friday, that there is no evidence of mistreatment of Haitians who are forcibly returned to their country.

The U.N. refugee specialists said that in recent days 35 Haitians who fled their country a second time aboard small boats already have been identified, and one official predicted that "many more will be emerging."

These Haitians are not on a list of 41 people at Guantanamo who officials say soon will be allowed into the United States to pursue political-asylum claims.

The 41 all say they have fled twice. But they left Haiti together Jan. 9, raising questions among some officials whether they concocted their stories as a group. U.N. refugee experts said those more recently identified as having fled a second time came from different areas of Haiti and left individually.

"The one outstanding feature of all their stories is that they say they have been specially targeted as being repatriates who have denounced the Haitian authorities to the U.S.," said a U.N. official who is familiar with the interviews.

"I can't assure you that they are all telling the truth, but having listened to them carefully, I have no reason to doubt them."

Since the refugee crisis began in October, the month after a coup deposed Haiti's elected president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Washington has insisted that most of the more than 15,000 people who have fled Haiti are economic, not political, refugees.

On Friday, Justice Department lawyers submitted to the xTC Supreme Court the results of a government investigation into the claims of four of the 41 refugees seeking asylum. The court is hearing an appeal from immigration-rights groups hoping to prevent or postpone the Haitians' return.

State Department officials and diplomats said the four refugees were chosen because their accounts of repression in Haiti offered the most detail of arrests, manhunts and killings. But they said field investigations in Haiti turned up nothing that would corroborate the accounts and much to rebut them.

"In one case, one of our officers had coffee with two of the people who had supposedly disappeared," a State Department official said. "In another case, one of the refugees who said he had been a political activist alleged that he had taught at a particular school.

"We went to the school, and they had never heard of him. We talked to local activists, and they had never heard of him."

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