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#3442: Haitians repatriated from Bahamas (fwd)


Posted at 8:15 a.m. EDT Wednesday, May 3, 2000 

 Haitians repatriated from Bahamas

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- (AP) -- She hasn't got a penny to her name,
and she and her daughter have nowhere to stay. Andrea Geoffroy is one
328 Haitians repatriated to misery in their homeland Tuesday, a week
after their attempt to sail to the United States ended in shipwreck in
the Bahamas. ``I didn't have enough money to buy merchandise to sell on
the street or enough to send my kids to school. There was no other way
out, and I'll take it again if things don't look up,'' said the 40-year
old mother of five, wearing the castoff clothes and too-tight shoes she
was given in a Bahamas prison. Her husband would beat her if she
returned home, she told reporters at International Airport after the
group was flown home on two chartered flights. No government
representatives showed up to help the returning Haitians, who had
 to find their own transportation. Airport employees and visitors were
their only recourse, and many were generous with donations. Geoffroy had
left her four sons with her husband in the capital and, with her
 daughter Sheila, 10, fled to the western town of Archaie, about 18
miles northwest of the capital. There, the refugees stole a 40-foot
sailboat and set sail Good Friday, April 21, she said. Last Thursday,
the Geoffroys were among 288 Haitians rescued after their ship
 had run aground the day before off the Bahamas' Flamingo Cay, about 250
miles from Haiti. Survivors said that many as 17 people may have died in
the attempt to reach Florida, although rescuers found just two bodies on
the partially submerged vessel. The migration came among increasing
violence in Haiti as the nation gears up for long-postponed legislative
elections on May 21, the fourth date set for the vote. Since March 29, a
dozen people have been killed in politically related slayings.
 About 346 other Haitians were intercepted in the Bahamas in two other
attempts since April 21. Some fear that as political instability grows
and economic depression deepens in one of the world's poorest countries,
the Bahamas and the United States could face a new flood of Haitians
headed for their shores. During the 1991-94 army coup, tens of thousands
fled their impoverished land in flimsy boats. The United States granted
political asylum to thousands. After U.S. troops restored a
democratically elected government, the mass exodus ceased. The U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service then refused to grant asylum to
 Haitian economic refugees. In 1997, 750 Haitian boat people were picked
up and repatriated; in 1998, 1,300; in 1999, 893. This year, 979 have
been intercepted. ``More are leaving now because the economic situation
is worsening,'' said Carole Joseph, director of the government's
National Migration Office. ``But I don't think the increase is directly
related to the political situation.'' Political violence is concentrated
in the capital. Also, trips are usually organized months in advance, and
political violence has peaked in the past month, Joseph said. None of
some 20 Haitians interviewed Tuesday said their departure was
politically motivated. ``There's no future for us here, no schools, no
jobs, no money,'' said Enold Joseph, a 16 year-old orphan who had lost
his cousin on the sea voyage. Haiti has been without a legal government
since June 1997, when Premier Rosny Smarth resigned, in conflict with
President Rene Preval over tainted results of April 1997 elections,
which were later annulled. Preval dissolved the parliament in January
1999 after months of disagreements.