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#3451: Haiti Fears Exodus of Boat People (fwd)


Wednesday May 3 12:11 PM ET 
 Haiti Fears Exodus of Boat People
By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Haiti fears a new exodus of boat people
trying to  escape economic and political woes, the country's top
migration official said today,a day after 288 survivors of a shipwreck
were returned from the Bahamas to the misery they fled. ``First there is
drought in the north, second if elections aren't held as anticipated,
international aid will be held up and the economic situation will
worsen,'' said Carol Joseph, director of Haiti's National Migration
Office. Since April 21, more than 600 Haitians have been intercepted
trying to come to the Bahamas. The new migration comes amid growing
violence in Haiti as the nation gears up for long-postponed legislative
elections scheduled for May 21 - the fourth date set for the vote and
one that still is not certain. Since March 29, a dozen people have
 been killed in politically-related slayings. Andrea Geoffroy was among
the 288 Haitians who went to the Bahamas last week and were sent back.
 Deposited at Port-au-Prince airport with her 10-year-old daughter, she
vowed she would risk her life again to get away from Haiti.
 ``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,'' said
the 40-year old mother of five, who had left her husband and four
children behind to take her chances on making a new life in Florida.
The 288 Haitians were rescued after their ship ran aground in a storm in
the southern Bahamas, about 250 miles from Haiti. Survivors said as many
as 17 people died in the attempt to reach Florida, although rescuers
found just two bodies on the partially submerged vessel.
Fighting the deportation of the Haitians, Amnesty International launched
a campaign on the asylum-seekers' behalf. The London-based human rights
group urged the Bahamas not to return the Haitians to their country
``unless their individual asylum claims have been fully examined by an
independent body.''``These people are fleeing a very volatile situation,
where they may potentially be exposed to persecution. It is the
responsibility of the authorities of Bahamas to make sure that this is
not the case and to provide protection to those who need it,'' the
organization said in a statement. Many 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. ``There is major concern as to whether or not there
is going to be some mass exodus ... during the next few months,'' the
Bahamas' immigration director, Vernon Burrows, said after last week's
shipwreck. Amnesty International said such concerns should be secondary.
 ``The imminent forcible return of asylum-seekers seems to be motivated
by the practical problems posed by their presence in large numbers. But
this is no good reason for the government of Bahamas to evade its
 responsibilities,'' the group said. During the 1991-94 army coup, tens
of thousands of Haitians fled in flimsy boats. The United States granted
 political asylum to thousands. After U.S. troops restored a
democratically elected government in 1994, the exodus ceased. The U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service then refused to give asylum to
Haitian economic refugees, who are routinely deported. Haiti has been
without a legal government since June 1997, when Premier Rosny Smarth
resigned in a power struggle with President Rene Preval over tainted
election results. Preval dissolved the parliament in January 1999 after
an 18-month stalemate.