KENNEBUNKPORT, MAINE — PRESIDENT Bush ordered the United States Coast Guard to begin returning Haitians picked up at sea to their country because a refugee camp at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is "filled to capacity."
"The large number of Haitian migrants has led to a dangerous and unmanageable situation," White House spokeswoman Judy Smith said. "We have no choice but to return Haitians picked up at sea."
The US Coast Guard has picked up more than 34,000 boat people since a coup toppled Haiti's first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, on Sept. 30. In recent weeks, the exodus has increased due to harsh living conditions under the military-backed administration in Haiti.
Until Thursday, the Coast Guard was picking up all boat people and taking them to a camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is now filled to capacity with about 12,500 people. And the Coast Guard over the weekend was rounding up only Haitian boats in imminent danger of sinking.
Now, the Coast Guard will return those Haitians aboard ships in danger of sinking, and will escort back to Haiti those boats judged seaworthy, the White House said.
Human rights activists criticize the action and say that those returned to Haiti could face repression.