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#3639: Flamingo Cay Survivors Return to Haiti (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

Flamingo Cay Survivors Return to Haiti
By Chris Chapman
Haitian Times Staff
PORT-AU-PRINCE - 328 Haitian refugees, most of them passengers of a boat
which ran aground off Flamingo Cay, a deserted island of the Bahamas
archipelago, arrived at Port-au-Prince airport on May 2, bringing to an end
an ill-fated voyage during which at least 14 of their co-passengers died.
The refugees were attempting to reach the United States. Solange Petithomme,
who lives in Vignier, near Arcahaie in the West department, from where the
boat set sail on Good Friday, is still waiting in vain for her three sons to
come home. "They went looking for a better life," said Petithomme on local
radio. "Since April 21 we have had no news of them... If God would just give
us our children back, we would thank Him." One of the returned would-be
emigrants told journalists that the organizers of the trip threw passengers
overboard to their deaths.
Others said they had boarded the boat to flee political persecution in
Haiti. The human rights group Amnesty International called on the
authorities of the Bahamas to grant each of the refugees an interview to
determine whether sending them back to Haiti would expose them to the risk
of persecution. An estimated 12 people, many of them members of political
parties, have been killed in what are thought to be politically-motivated
incidents since February of this year, with a climate of extreme tension and
conflict surrounding upcoming parliamentary and local elections set for May
21 and June 25. Pierre Esperance, of the human rights group National
Coalition for Haitian Rights, agrees with Amnesty International's position.
"The refugees are supposed to be given an interview. Using the interview,
the reason for which they left their country can be established." "I'm not
surprised if the refugees say they were persecuted," Esperance continued.
"Since April 1997 we have a situation of instability in this country.
President Preval decided not to carry out elections, and that is the cause
of all the violence, crime and persecution which we are seeing now." Preval
rejects accusations that he is blocking the electoral process. "Even if they
left the country for economic reasons, it's the political situation which is
the cause of the poor state of the economy," said Esperance.
The Flamingo Cay incident brought to more than 600 the number of Haitians
detained in the Bahamas within one week, attempting to enter the country
illegally, raising fears of a flood of 'boat people' not seen since the days
of the coup d'etat. "There is a generalized atmosphere of fear in the
country. If credible elections are not held, the people will be so
desperate, it's possible there will be more violence, and more people
leaving the country," Esperance insisted.
Carol Joseph, director of the National Migration Organization, a state body
which provides assistance to returning refugees, said that after questioning
some of last week's returnees the organization ruled out political
persecution as a reason for their flight. "The position of the ONM is that
no-one is leaving Haiti for political reasons at present," said Joseph. 820
refugees returned to Haiti last week on five flights. The police announced
the arrest of a man suspected of involvement in organizing the trip.
 The Haitian Times
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