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July 28, 2003

Asylum News 18

Cubans on Floating Truck Returned to Cuba by U.S. U.S. Should Change Its Interdiction Practices

Take Action Now! Pictures of the 1951 Chevy pickup truck converted into a make-shift boat by 12 Cubans intent on reaching the United States have once again highlighted the plight of those who attempt to reach the U.S. by sea. (Read the Miami Herald Article and see accompanying photo.) So far this year, 1186 Cubans and 1889 Haitians have been interdicted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. U.S. interdiction practices have been widely criticized by Cuban and Haitian community-based and national advocacy organizations as well as by church groups, human rights organizations and refugee advocates. The Truck-Boat and the Crackdown in Cuba On Thursday July 24, the Miami Herald and other press reported that the U.S. Coast Guard had intercepted a group of Cubans who had attempted to reach the U.S. on a green 1951 Chevy flatbed truck that they had converted into a boat by mounting it on a pontoon made of 55-gallon drums and attaching a propeller to the truck’s drive shaft. The Cubans, who were interdicted by the Coast Guard on July 16, were returned by the U.S. to Cuba. The Coast Guard destroyed the boat which they described as a “hazard to navigation.” So far this year, the U.S. has interdicted 1186 Cubans. The increase in the number of Cubans attempting to flee by sea to the U.S. coincides with the sharp increase in political repression in Cuba. In the last weeks of March 2003, the Cuban government sentenced nearly 80 human rights defenders, independent journalists, economists and librarians to up to 28 years in prison in the harshest crackdown on civil society seen on the island in years. The government’s actions have been widely condemned by human rights organizations, foreign governments and the United Nations. See Human Rights First Press Release of April 9, 2003. In fact, the White House on April 17, 2003, issued a press statement stating they "remain gravely concerned about the fate of scores of Cuban citizens who have been unfairly arrested, tried and sentenced for the crimes of speaking their minds, holding discussions, and seeking an alternative to 44 years of repression and fear." The White House also called upon the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights to deny Cuba a seat on the Commission next year because of Castro's "callous disregard for due process and basic human rights." U.S. Interdiction Practices and the Impact on Cuban and Haitian Refugees Under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the U.S. is prohibited from returning refugees to countries where they will face persecution. Yet, despite this obligation, U.S. interdiction practices are woefully deficient and fail to ensure that refugees are not returned to the hands of their persecutors. Under U.S. procedures, migrants who are interdicted on boats are not brought to the U.S. for asylum processing, are not given access to lawyers and are not required to be individually screened to make sure that they are not refugees who are in danger of persecution if returned. While Cuban migrants are read a statement in Spanish notifying them that they may come forward and speak with a U.S. representative if they have any concerns, this statement is deficient and encourages refugees to return to Cuba to pursue in-country refugee processing. Haitian and other migrants are not provided with any indication, written or oral, that they can express their fears about being returned. Even if a Haitian asylum seeker should voice a fear of persecution, the U.S. government does not require that translators be present on every interdicted boat so their fears may never be heard. Read background information on the U.S.'s discriminatory treatment of Haitian asylum seekers. U.S. interdiction practices have been widely criticized. Human Rights First is conducting an extensive examination of U.S. interdiction practices, with the pro bono assistance of the Yale University Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic. The results of that examination will be issued later this year. Recommendations and Action: Urge U.S. to Change Interdiction Practices Human Rights First urges the U.S. to change its interdiction practices. The U.S. should allow those who are interdicted to have access to U.S. asylum procedures and to legal counsel. Those who are interdicted should be individually and privately interviewed, with appropriate translation, to ensure that they are not refugees who are in danger of persecution if returned. Each person should be advised that he or she can request asylum from the United States if they have a fear of return to their home country. Take Action! Urge the U.S. to change its interdiction practices More information on Asylum in the U.S. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues. If you are not subscribed, and would like to continue receiving Asylum Protection News, sign up here