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1832: Miami Haitians mourn refugee victims (fwd)


Miami Haitians mourn refugee victims 
07:18 p.m Jan 12, 2000 Eastern 

 MIAMI, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Amid a custody battle over 6-year-old Cuban
Elian Gonzalez, Miami's Haitian community  mourned the victims of a
Haitian boat tragedy on Wednesday  and called for equal treatment of all
refugees.  Hundreds of Haitians gathered in Miami's Little Haiti     
neighbourhood for a memorial service to remember the people  who
reportedly died during the voyage of a 60-foot (18-metre) coastal
freighter that carried 411 Haitians, Dominicans and Chinese to within a
mile (1.6 km) of the Miami coast on New Year's Day.            
Passengers have said as many as 10 people died on the voyage,which
started on Dec. 28 in Haiti and ended as fireworks showered the Miami
skyline in the first moments of New Year's   Day.  After the service,
several hundred people walked in silent  procession to the Miami
headquarters of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalisation Service. Many
carried blue-and-red Haitian flags and others held signs reading:
``Haitians Unite for our  Survival'' and ``Good for one, good for all.'' 
``We are doing it to pay respect to those Haitian refugees who         
died during the trip,'' said Jean Robert Lafortune, chairman of        
the Haitian American Grass-roots Coalition. ``We also want to get the
attention of the American public to change a policy we  believe is
against Haitians.'' The overcrowded freighter ran aground off Key
Biscayne on  Jan. 1 and the immigrants were rescued by U.S. Coast Guard
crews. Four women were taken to Miami for medical treatment but the rest
were sent back to Haiti days later. Haitian Americans have long decried
the unequal treatment of Haitians and Cubans who leave their Caribbean
homes to seek a better life in the United States. They have made the INS
a focal  point of their discontent.  Under U.S. policy, most Haitians
trying to reach Florida shores are returned to Haiti, the poorest nation
in the western hemisphere with average per capita annual income of about
$250.  Cubans, on the other hand, are governed by a policy known as     
``wet feet/dry feet'' under which they are returned to Cuba if they are
intercepted at sea but allowed to stay if they manage to set foot on dry
land.  Haitian community leaders have called the U.S. treatment of    
Haitians ``racist.'' Lafortune said 20 children were among the nearly
400 Haitians  on the ill-fated New Year's voyage and noted they were    
immediately sent back to Haiti, far different treatment than that    
afforded Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban who survived a boat accident and
is at the centre of an international custody battle  between communist
Cuba and the boy's Miami relatives. Dozens of U.S. politicians in Miami
and Washington have rallied  to the cause of Elian's Miami relatives,
who say the boy should grow up in the United States ``in freedom.''     
``We are not arguing against the way Elian has been treated,'' he     
said. ``We are asking them to do the same for Haitian children.'' The
memorial service took place as one of the Haitian women who was brought
to shore, Yvena Rhinvil, fought to stay in the United States and to be
reunited with her two children, Marc, 10, and Germanie, 8, who were on
the boat and were returned  to Haiti. INS decided to release Rhinvil and
grant her a full political asylum hearing based on a finding that she
had a credible fear of  political persecution in Haiti.  If Rhinvil is
given political asylum, she would be eligible under  INS policy to apply
for permission to bring her children to theUnited States. But immigrant
advocates said the process could take months or years and were uncertain
if she would be reunited with the children in Haiti or the United