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#1725: Reuters Dispatch (fwd)

From: John C. Kozyn <jckozyn@mnsinc.com>

Boat people detained off Florida returned to Haiti 
06:19 p.m Jan 05, 2000 Eastern 
By Chris Chapman 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Nearly 400 Haitian boat people were 
returned to their Caribbean homeland on Wednesday, less than a week 
after their bid to escape grinding poverty and political chaos ended 
just a mile (1.6 km) off Florida's coast early on New Year's Day. 

``We have no work. Hunger is in our bodies, unemployment is in our 
bodies, poverty is in our bodies. They keep on shooting people every 
day,'' said Jean Robert, 26, explaining why he left Haiti on the 
dangerous voyage. 

An overloaded 60-foot (18-metre) wooden coastal freighter carrying 
411 Haitians, Dominicans and Chinese sailed 600 miles (966 km) from 
Haiti, only to run aground just off Miami's Key Biscayne after trying 
to elude Coast Guard patrols shortly after midnight on Jan. 1. 

Four women were taken ashore in Miami for medical treatment but the 
rest were loaded onto Coast Guard cutters for the trip home. 

The U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday it returned 404 people to Port-au-
Prince, including 390 Haitians and 14 Dominicans. One Haitian and two 
Chinese remained aboard a Coast Guard vessel for further interviews 
by U.S. immigration officials. 

The decision to return the migrants to Haiti -- the poorest nation in 
the western hemisphere with annual per capita income of just $250 -- 
sparked three days of angry protests in Miami by Haitian- and African-
Americans who said U.S. immigration policy was racist. 

``We were well received over there. We asked for political asylum, 
but they didn't give it to us. They didn't ask us any questions. They 
just asked if we were sick,'' Robert said. 

Pierre Esperance, director of the National Coalition for Haitian 
Rights, reiterated charges that U.S. immigration authorities' 
treatment of the boat people was racist. 

``There were Haitians, Dominicans and Chinese in the group which 
arrived in Florida. They interviewed the Dominicans and the Chinese, 
asking them why they left their countries. But they didn't interview 
the Haitians,'' Esperance said. 

Miami's large Haitian community has long denounced the 
inconsistencies in U.S. immigration policy, which dictates the 
repatriation of most Haitian migrants while Cubans who manage to set 
foot on U.S. shores are generally allowed to stay. 

``We made it to shore. We made it right to shore,'' said Frantz 
Tirene, who left Haiti with his wife and their daughter Rose-Carline, 
6. ``They saw they should let us stay, so they didn't let journalists 
see us. They grabbed us. They were brutal. They grabbed me by the 
neck and put me in their boat.'' 

Some of the Haitians said they boarded the boat to escape poverty 
while others cited the nation's unstable politics. Haiti is scheduled 
to hold long overdue legislative and municipal elections in March, 
its first in nearly three years. 

``We're not poor. I own a school,'' Tirene said. ``But these people 
kept asking me to use the school for political meetings. When I said 
no, they made all kinds of threats. So I put someone in charge of the 
school and left with my wife.'' 

One man said he paid $1,400 to make the trip, but others said they 
paid nothing and had heard the boat was stolen. 

``I didn't pay any money,'' said Frantzo Premisca, 27. ``I went with 
my wife. We left our children with their grandmother. The country is 
in a crisis, we saw that. We had to go.'' 

U.S. authorities said the trip was likely organised by smugglers. But 
Haitian officials said it was not known for certain if the smugglers 
were among the returning Haitians. 

``We think they are, because the U.S. authorities did not say that 
they had arrested the trip's organisers,'' said Pierre-Antoine 
Lovinsky, an official of Haiti's National Migrations Office. 

A National Migrations Office team welcomed the migrants at the wharf 
in Port-au-Prince. Eight buses waited to take them to a bus station 
and each deportee was offered about $11 to help them return to their 
home towns.