UN Official Assails US Ouster of Haitians

UNITED Nations refugee chief Sadako Ogata attacked the United States yesterday for its decision to resume the forced repatriation of Haitian asylum seekers.

A statement from her Geneva office said Mrs. Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had sought assurances from the US "at a very high level" that Haitians would not be forced to return until the political situation in Haiti had stabilized.

"Continuing reports of serious human rights abuses and violence by security forces since the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Haiti are cause for great concern," the statement said.

"For this reason, UNHCR fears that those being returned may, in fact, be exposed to danger upon their return. UNHCR is not in a position to monitor the safety of those being returned to Haiti."

The US began repatriating more than 10,000 Haitian asylum seekers Saturday when a Coast Guard cutter set off with 150 on board.

The US Supreme Court Friday lifted a ban that had prevented the government from sending the Haitians back. The decision ended months of legal wrangling that had left the refugees in a state of limbo at US Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

More than 15,000 refugees have been pulled from boats since a military coup in September overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president.

Some 10,400 have been housed in a makeshift tent city at the Navy base, with others living aboard Coast Guard cutters moored offshore.

About another 1,000 have returned to Haiti, either voluntarily or aboard Coast Guard ships before the ban was ordered.

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