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March 02, 2004

Asylum News 24

US Turning Back Haitians Who Flee By Boat

Aristide Leaves Haiti, International Force Expected Take Action Now! Urge Bush Administration to Improve Treatment of Haitians: http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/haitian_refugees During the last weekend of February 2004, President Jean Bertrand Aristide left Haiti, and U.S. Marines reportedly arrived. In response to the UN Security Council vote in favor of sending a multinational interim force in to Haiti, French forces began to arrive in Haiti today and Canada and Brazil are expected to be sending forces as well. Last week, President Bush said that the U.S. would "turn back any refugee that attempts to reach our shore" from Haiti. Although U.S. officials subsequently clarified that the U.S. would not return anyone with credible concerns about persecution, the current practice for identifying people who have such a fear is completely inadequate. The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that in the last week 881 Haitians have been intercepted and returned to Haiti, including a group of 336 Haitians returned to Port-au-Prince on Saturday. The U.S. has continued returning those who flee Haiti by boat to Haiti despite the escalating violence and uncertainty about safety and security. In addition, given the deficiencies in US interdiction practices (discussed below), the U.S. may very well be returning refugees to the hands of their persecutors. U.S. practices for interdicting refugees who flee by sea have been widely criticized by Haitian community-based groups and national advocacy organizations as well as by church groups, human rights organizations and refugee advocates. US Practices For Turning Back Haitians Endanger Lives 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. practices for turning back those who flee by sea 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. To read background information on the U.S.'s discriminatory treatment of Haitian asylum seekers, click here: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/asylum/asylum_04.htm U.S. interdiction practices have been widely criticized as inadequate to ensure that refugees are not returned to persecution in violation of international law. Human Rights First has conducted 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 policy of interdiction and forced return of Haitians. No one fleeing Haiti should be returned there while the situation is so dangerous that their safety cannot be assured. The U.S. should not, under any circumstances, return people to Haiti without first making sure that none on board are refugees who are fleeing from persecution. Those who are interdicted should be informed of their right to seek asylum and 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. Interdicted Haitians should be brought to safety - outside of Haiti - if not in the U.S., then in a safe third country or other place where their safety and humane treatment can be ensured. Take Action! To urge the U.S. to change its interdiction practices, click here: http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/haitian_refugees For more information on asylum in the U.S., visit our website: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/asylum/asylum.htm 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