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#1676: Haitians await fate on U.S. Coast Guard cutters (fwd)


WIRE:01/02/2000 16:29:00 ET
 Haitians await fate on U.S. Coast Guard cutters
MIAMI (Reuters) - More than 400  illegal Haitian, Dominican  and Chinese
 migrants were aboard U.S. Coast Guard cutters  anchored off of Miami
Sunday  awaiting word whether they would be  sent back to Haiti, the
Coast Guard  said.   The migrants were aboard a dangerously overloaded
60-foot )  freighter that ran aground off Miami's Key Biscayne Saturday 
after trying to outrun a Coast Guard patrol. Most are Haitians  but the
group included a few Dominicans and Chinese. Coast Guard spokesman Luis
Diaz said all 406 probably  would  be sent back to Haiti under a 1981
treaty between the United  States and Haiti, which allows the
Coast       Guard to intercept and  return passengers trying to enter
the United States illegally  aboard Haitian vessels.  Two women
passengers were brought ashore for medicaltreatment, one suffering
complications from pregnancy  and the  other suffering convulsions and
high fever, Diaz   said.  The Coast Guard ferried Immigration and
Naturalization        Service (INS) agents out to the five cutters
Sunday to interview  the migrants, Diaz said. But the treaty does not 
require that  they be interviewed to determine if they have grounds to
pursue  political asylum in the United States.  "They stay aboard the
cutters until INS or the State Department tells us differently. They
intend to repatriate    them," Diaz said.  An INS spokeswoman, Maria
Elena Garcia, said only    that "The  disposition of the migrants will
be determined  upon completion  of an investigation by the U.S. Coast
Guard."  Thousands of Haitians have attempted the 600-mile voyage  from
their impoverished Caribbean homeland to Florida, usually  in
unseaworthy sailboats or small, leaky coastal freighters.  Most are
considered to be fleeing   poverty rather than political  oppression and
are repatriated.  It was the largest group of Haitians intercepted off
Florida in more than a year. The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted  363 
Haitians at sea last year, compared to 1,206 in  1998.  
Fearing the stranded boat would capsize, Coast Guard  crews  carefully
unloaded the migrants and took them aboard the  cutters. "It's a very
large migrant case and luckily no one was  injured," Diaz said.      
Dozens of Haitians and blacks demonstrated peacefully  outside the Coast
Guard base on Miami Beach Saturday, demanding  that the migrants be
allowed to stay.  Haitian-Americans have long protested against the    
different  treatment accorded Haitian and Cuban migrants  trying to
reach  Florida. While Haitians are usually sent back home immediately, 
Cubans who manage to set foot on U.S. soil are generally allowed  to
stay and are ultimately given permanent residency.