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Denying Haiti's Refugees; [FINAL Edition] Bill Frelick. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Mar 6, 2004. pg.

A.19

Abstract (Summary)
[Bill Clinton]'s decision was an act of compassion, not a requirement under U.S. law. But it was hardly liberal compassion. The refugees were held in stifling tents on a tarmac behind barbed wire. Worse, after U.S. forces returned [Jean-Bertrand Aristide] to power and it came time to close the camp, the limited reach of domestic law applied once again, and thousands of Haitians were sent back with no screening of possible refugee claims. Human rights advocates protested that the Haitians were held in a wretched rights-free-zone. But the government achieved its migration-control objectives. The safe haven did not cause a spike in boat departures. As bad as it was, the Guantanamo safe haven no doubt saved lives both by not sending the junta's victims back to their persecutors and by picking up Haitians in rickety boats near the Haitian coast and bringing them to safety. Jump to indexing (document details)

Full Text
(744 words) Copyright The Washington Post Company Mar 6, 2004 As President Bush begins his reelection campaign, will he again claim to be a compassionate conservative? The question comes to mind as the first boatloads of fleeing Haitian refugees are returned to the volatile danger of their homeland. Since the current crisis began Feb. 21, hundreds of Haitians have been interdicted by U.S. Coast Guard cutters and returned forthwith to Haiti's beleaguered capital, Port-au-Prince. None were apprised of their right to seek asylum. Only a handful -- those who begged and pleaded the loudest - - were allowed cursory refugee prescreening interviews aboard the cutters, and they were rejected as not having credible fears. As of Thursday, all 905 interdicted Haitians had been returned to Haiti. Meanwhile, President Bush said, "I have made it abundantly clear to the Coast

Guard that we will turn back any refugee that attempts to reach our shore." No exceptions. What is also abundantly clear is that Haiti today is a dangerous place, no less so because of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure on Sunday. Armed thugs are looking to settle scores. Fear and anarchy loom throughout the country. The U.N. Refugee Convention forbids returning a person "in any manner whatsoever" to a place where his life or freedom would be threatened. By longstanding practice neighboring countries provide at least temporary refuge in the event of mass refugee influxes. Except the United States. Tragically, the last time this happened, the Supreme Court countenanced thenPresident George H.W. Bush's summary return of interdicted Haitian boat people. The court said that because the refugee convention was not self-executing but rather was implemented only through domestic legislation, its reach did not extend beyond our borders. Legal scholars worldwide were stunned at the blow to the most sacrosanct principle of refugee law: the ban on "refoulement" -- forced return of a refugee. The Convention forbids returning a refugee to persecution; it shows no preference for forced return from the high seas. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees called the decision "a setback to modern international refugee law." Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in dissent, "What is extraordinary in this case is that the Executive, in disregard of the law, would take to the seas to intercept fleeing refugees and force them back to their persecutors -- and that the Court would strain to sanction that conduct." President Bill Clinton grew increasingly uncomfortable sending boat refugees back to Haiti, and in July 1994 declared the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, a "safe haven" where all fleeing Haitians would be held temporarily. For six critical months, during which time the thugs who had overthrown Aristide were killing and torturing, Haitian refugees were not returned. Clinton's decision was an act of compassion, not a requirement under U.S. law. But it was hardly liberal compassion. The refugees were held in stifling tents on a tarmac behind barbed wire. Worse, after U.S. forces returned Aristide to power and it came time to close the camp, the limited reach of domestic law applied once again, and thousands of Haitians were sent back with no screening of possible refugee claims. Human rights advocates protested that the Haitians were held in a wretched rights-free-zone. But the government achieved its migrationcontrol objectives. The safe haven did not cause a spike in boat departures. As bad as it was, the Guantanamo safe haven no doubt saved lives both by not sending the junta's victims back to their persecutors and by picking up Haitians in rickety boats near the Haitian coast and bringing them to safety. Now comes the true test of George W. Bush's compassion. A kinder and gentler policy would provide protection to Haitian asylum- seekers in the same way the United States did a few years back for refugees from Kosovo. They were brought to a humane environment at Fort Dix, N.J., where Americans welcomed them, and they were not excluded from the protections of our laws. The range of less generous options includes providing financial incentives and

other assistance to one or more of the countries in the Caribbean Basin to provide Haitian refugees temporary accommodations with the understanding that the United States and others will resettle them permanently if they are unable to return safely. But the callous option, the one that no person claiming to be compassionate -- conservative or otherwise -- could tolerate, is the policy the president is now pursuing. The writer is with the Refugee Council USA, a coalition of 20 nongovernmental organizations working on refugee protection.

Indexing (document details)


Subjects: Immigration policy, Political asylum, Rebellions, Refugees Locations: United States, US, Haiti People: Bush, George W Author(s): Bill Frelick Document types: Commentary Section: EDITORIAL Publication title: The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Mar 6, 2004. pg. A.19 Source type: Newspaper ISSN: 01908286 ProQuest document ID: 572307551 Text Word Count 744 Document URL: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb? did=572307551&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=944&RQT=309&VName=PQD