Lawyer Cites Evidence to Slow Haitian Return

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LAWYER representing Haitian refugees said Sunday he will ask the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of an order allowing the government to forcibly return the migrants, citing new evidence of political persecution and violence in Haiti.

The US government is sending back to Haiti refugees trying to flee the impoverished island nation, denying claims that they have suffered political persecution. But lawyer Ira Kurzban said he has found evidence that many refugees have legitimate claims for political asylum.

Kurzban, who works through the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, said he has information showing that 41 Haitian refugees who were repatriated in November and are now being held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be allowed to seek political asylum in the United States because of the violent treatment they received upon returning to Haiti.

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The Haitians had been given brief interviews aboard Coast Guard cutters after they were picked up the first time.

Immigration and Naturalization Service officials said the immigrants did not have a claim to political asylum and were returned to Haiti.

Kurzban said once home, the Haitians faced violence and persecution by the military, which had overthrown democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September.

"Some people were taken off buses - they were rearrested - they were placed in a what's now again a political prison in Port-Au-Prince," Kurzban said.

"Some of them, when they were taken back, witnessed people being shot by the military who were very close Aristide supporters," he continued. "Other people were hunted down by the military and were sought for questioning as soon as they arrived back."

Kurzban said the Haitians who fled a second time reported returning refugees are fingerprinted and photographed by the Haitian military. He is concerned that these efforts are so not to do anything now but to keep records on these people - and just as the generals did in Argentina and other places - to quietly arrest, torture and murder.

Kurzban said he will seek an emergency stay from the Supreme Court Monday or Tuesday based on the new information.

The Supreme Court ruled Jan. 31 the government could return any Haitian who did not meet the requirements for political asylum. The government said most of the Haitians fled to escape poverty. The 11th US Circuit Feb. 4 cleared the way for Coast Guard to return the refugees.

Through Saturday the Coast Guard had returned 1,089 Haitians. Cutters have picked up more than 15,000 refugees since October and more than 3,400 have been found to have legitimate claims for political asylum.

The Coast Guard said, however, more Haitians continue to flee Haiti than are returned and that the tent city set up in Guantanamo is still filled to capacity.

Another boatload of Haitians was to be repatriated yesterday.

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