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#1675: Activists protest likely repatriation of more than 400 migrants (fwd)


WIRE:01/02/2000 15:00:00 ET
Activists protest likely repatriation of more than 400 migrants
MIAMI (AP) _ Haitian activists rallied for a second day in  support of
scores of Haitian, Dominican and Chinese migrants  who  were taken into
custody after their wooden ship ran aground off the  Florida         
coast.  The 406 would-be migrants were being  held on Coast Guard ships 
offshore Sunday pending their expected return to their homelands.     
About 100 Haitian-Americans picketed the Coast Guard's Miami  Beach
station Saturday to protest the  repatriation policy. They  returned
Sunday for a second rally and organizers said hundreds of  people were
likely to attend.  Demonstrators at Saturday's rally demanded that laws
be changed  so Haitians are treated similar to Cubans, who  generally
can remain  in the United States if they reach  shore.  "We're going to
stay here as long as it takes _ until we hear  that the Haitians are
brought to land and given the  opportunity to  seek political asylum,"
said Marlene  Bastien, a member of the  Haitian-American Grassroots 
Coalition.  "No matter how much you try to explain to people the     
policy  differences, people just don't accept it," said  Gepsie
Metellus,  who was born in Haiti and is now  director of public affairs
for  Miami-Dade County  Commissioner Barbara Carey. "It's always so 
painful when you know they are going to be sent back."   The migrants
were found packed shoulder-to-shoulder on  a  60-foot-long by
25-foot-wide wooden freighter that ran aground  early Saturday.  
The ship first appeared on the radar of the Coast Guard patrol  boat
Farallon shortly before midnight Friday. It  was running in the  dark at
five to seven knots, and its crews ignored warnings by  radio and
loudspeaker from the Farallon that it was headed toward  shallow water.
"They were trying to tell them to turn or you'll hit the  reef," said
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Andy Blomme.  After the boat ran aground on a
sandbar, Coast Guard crews  tossed life jackets on board and tried to
explain to the migrants  that the wooden ship was not safe and that,  no
matter what  happened, they would not be allowed to   enter the United
States,  Blomme said.  Fearing that any threatening move could provoke
the passengers  to jump into the water, the Coast Guard crews waited
until dawn to  persuade the migrants to leave the rickety ship.  The
ship apparently had been at sea for at lease five days, and  most of the
passengers were weary and dehydrated, authorities said.  Two women _ one
five months pregnant and possibly  injured by a  fall during the trip,
and one who was suffering from a fever and  convulsions _ were taken to
a hospital Saturday, Petty Officer Sean  Connett Connett said.  In 1999,
the Coast Guard rescued or turned back 363  Haitians and  406 Dominicans
trying to reach the United States.