Refugee slain after his return to Haiti was sent there in a mistake by U.S.

April 22, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- Before she buried her son in Haiti, Therese Georges of Miami hired a photographer.

She saw that Omann Desanges' body -- with half the face cut away, stomach slit and brow smashed -- would prove what he had tried to tell U.S. authorities: that he would be in danger if they forced him back to Haiti.

As more bodies are found on Haitian streets during a terror campaign against supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the U.S. policy for granting refuge to Haitians has come under angry attack.

Human rights groups and even U.S. immigration officials say that many Haitians with legitimate fears of persecution are turned down.

Overworked interviewers are told that they may be reprimanded for accepting an applicant for political asylum in the United States but not for rejecting one, the Miami Herald reported Sunday.

Mr. Desanges actually won the right to go to the United States to plead for asylum, based on earlier persecution he described to interviewers at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo, Cuba.

Still, he was sent back to Haiti, the victim of an apparent error by U.S. authorities, and was then killed.

Mr. Desanges was returned to Haiti in April or May 1992, a few months after he left his country. He stayed in hiding for nearly two years. Finally, this January he returned to his home in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Martissant.

On Jan. 24, a Monday night, he was arrested outside his home by a squad of armed men and taken to a police station. Two days later his mutilated body was found lying on the main road to the airport.

His saga began two years earlier, in February 1992, when Mr. Desanges, then 25, his brother Ronald, then 20, and other family members were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard from a rickety boat and taken to a refugee camp at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Interviewed there by U.S. immigration officers, both told of their membership in the pro-Aristide Association of Progressive Youths of Martissant. They described how pro-military squads had sacked the family house in Martissant. They told of hiding for months in the countryside.

Both were "screened in," given permission to go to the United States to apply for political asylum, according to Immigration and Naturalization Service computerized records.

But somehow Omann Desanges' case became what some immigration inspectors called a "mistake."

Sometime in May, according to his brother Ronald, who now lives in Miami, Omann Desanges was summoned from the Guantanamo tent camp, along with other family members. He was told to board a bus.

"They believed that they were going to Miami," said Ronald Desanges.

Instead, Omann Desanges and the others were returned to Haiti.

Ronald Desanges was interviewed a second time at Guantanamo and was granted full asylum, according to INS records. He will be eligible for a work permit in June.

The difference between the brothers was that Ronald Desanges, according to INS computerized records and employees with access to them, was HIV-positive.

Along with other HIV-positive Haitians at Guantanamo, he was ++ moved to a different part of the camp and his name was not called when the rest of his family was sent back to Haiti. "Being HIV-positive may have saved his life," said one of the employees.

INS officials said they could not comment on the case because they have not yet been able to find Omann Desanges' complete file. Although INS sources provided some information on Omann Desanges, an INS spokesman said that he could not comment.

Several INS officials and lawyers said that they noticed in the spring of 1992 that some Haitians who had been "screened in" were being shipped back to Haiti. A 1992 General Accounting Office report said this happened to at least 54 people.

INS employees who worked at Guantanamo said the U.S. troops who ran the camp sometimes sent people back without checking to see if they had been "screened in."

In the chaotic atmosphere of the camps, set up to house a sudden flood of more than 30,000 boat people after Father Aristide was overthrown in September 1991, records were poorly kept.

Omann Desanges' wife, children and another brother, William, still are in hiding in Haiti, moving from place to place.

Steven Forester, a lawyer at the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, said that he has asked U.S. officials in Port-au-Prince to

give the family refugee protection.

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