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#3489: AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Bahamas -- No safe haven ... (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

MAY 3,  M2 Communications - Haitian asylum seekers in the Bahamas should
not be returned to their country unless their individual asylum claims have
been fully examined by an independent body, Amnesty International said
   "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 continued.
   "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
   The planned forcible return of Haitian asylum-seekers is a violation of
the Bahamas' obligations as a state party to the 1951 UN Convention
relating to the Status of Refugees (the Convention) and its 1967 Protocol.
   Under the principle of non-refoulement, set out in Article 33 of the
Refugee Convention, the Bahamas is obliged to ensure that no person is
returned, directly or indirectly, to a country where, "his life or freedom
would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality,
membership of a particular social group or political opinion."
   Implicit in the principle of non-refoulement is the necessity to
establish a satisfactory asylum procedure.
   "The government of the Bahamas is failing to ensure that people arriving
in the Bahamas seeking refuge are afforded effective access to a full and
fair procedure to determine whether they would be at risk of human rights
violations if returned to their country of origin," Amnesty International
   The organization is also urging the authorities of the Bahamas to
immediately cease the practice of detaining asylum-seekers and preventing
them from getting access to interpreters, and securing legal assistance --
including from the UNHCR and appropriate non-governmental organisations --
as required by international standards.
   "Asylum-seekers in the Bahamas are being held with common criminals, in
conditions which are inhumane, unsanitary and overcrowded and which may
amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," Amnesty International
   The organization also urged the government to comply with international
standards on refugees which unequivocally prohibit the detention of
children under the age of 18.
   "The government should take all necessary measures to establish
procedures to determine asylum claims in keeping with relevant
international standards," Amnesty International said.
   "Such procedures should include an independent and specialised
decision-making body, with provisions for an effective appeal against any
decision to refuse asylum. Asylum seekers must be allowed to stay in the
country for the duration of the appeal," the organisation added.
   According to reports received by Amnesty International, the 222 Haitian
nationals detained on Friday 28 April 2000 in Fox Hill prison and the 123
placed in the custody of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in Matthew Town
last Friday have not been informed of their right to apply for asylum, and
have been denied the right to legal counsel, the assistance of interpreters
and the right to contact and have access to the Office of the UNHCR.
   Amnesty International also understands that at least one high-ranking
official from the Ministry of Immigration has stated that applications for
asylum do not fall within the remit of the Ministry, even though
immigration authorities are understood to be handling the transfer,
detention and proposed return of the Haitian nationals.
             Background information
   Amnesty International and other international organisations have
repeatedly expressed concern about the failure by the Bahamas to uphold
international standards regarding refugees.
   Amnesty International has long-standing concerns regarding the human
rights situation in Haiti since the country's emergence from a military
regime in 1994. (See for example, "Haiti: Unfinished Business - Justice and
Liberties at Risk", March 2000, AMR 36/01/00 and "Haiti - Political
Violence", 30 March 2000, AMR 36/04/00 NS 60/00). The organization is
unable to make any assessment on the veracity of any of the claims made by
the recent arrivals. However, several independent journalists and other
witnesses have stated that a number of the Haitian nationals they
interviewed reported individual accounts of fleeing persecution, amidst the
general escalating climate of political intimidation and violence that has
occurred in recent weeks as Haiti prepares to hold long- overdue elections.
A number of those recently arrived are believed to be affiliated with an
opposition political coalition party.
   The number of Haitians forcibly returned from the Bahamas so far this
year is estimated at 1,600.

   Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street, WC1X
8DJ, London, United Kingdom