U.N. official has plan to help Haitian refugees Regional proposal relies on reversal of Bush policy

December 31, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The United Nations High Commissioner fo Refugees has drafted an ambitious proposal for countries throughout the Western Hemisphere to grant temporary asylum to Haitian boat people.

The high commissioner is trying to take advantage of President-elect Bill Clinton's campaign promise to "stop the forced repatriation of Haitian refugees" even as U.S. immigration officials make plans to carry out the Clinton policy.

In a confidential memorandum given to the Clinton transition team and to the State Department, High Commissioner Sadako Ogata and her staff said Mr. Clinton's inauguration Jan. 20 would create an "opportunity to fashion a humane and effective response" to the Haitian refugee crisis.

But U.N. officials say the success of any regional approach will depend on U.S. willingness to take in Haitian boat people who can prove that they are genuine refugees because they have a well-founded fear of persecution in Haiti.

"It would be difficult to convince other countries to participate unless the United States takes in some of those with a genuine claim to refugee status," said an aide to the high commissioner.

Mr. Clinton faces a ticklish political question: How to reverse President Bush's policy and end the forcible repatriation of Haitian migrants without encouraging a big new exodus to south Florida.

A member of the Clinton transition team said yesterday that Mr. Clinton had not decided exactly where or how to screen the thousands of Haitians who want to come to this country as refugees.

One possibility, he said, is for the United States to accept more refugee applications and hold more interviews in Haiti, thus reducing the need for perilous voyages to Florida.

That appears to be the most likely initial response by the new administration, but Clinton aides acknowledge that it is not a comprehensive policy.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service now interviews about 100 applicants for refugee status each week in Haiti.

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