Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

More Haitians Flee, Testing U.S. Policy Coast Guard Handles Upsurge in Boat People

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

More Haitians Flee, Testing U.S. Policy Coast Guard Handles Upsurge in Boat People

Article excerpt

More and more Haitians are fleeing their troubled homeland, raising concerns that President Bill Clinton's new refugee policy is setting off a fresh flood of boat people seeking U.S. asylum.

The U.S. Coast Guard picked up about 1,300 boat people fleeing Haiti on Monday, more than half the total number picked up in Caribbean waters in all of last year. Over the the weekend the Coast Guard intercepted 25 boats carrying 786 Haitians.

Toni Long-Gay, a Coast Guard petty officer, said Monday, "It's the biggest month since the White House issued its order" in May 1992 to return Haitian refugees.

Clinton changed that policy, allowing all boat people to get a hearing aboard a U.S. vessel offshore to determine if they are fleeing political persecution from Haiti's military-dominated government.

A State Department spokesman, Mike McCurry, said in Washington earlier Monday that 1,148 Haitians had been intercepted since the new system went into effect off Jamaica on June 16. That is almost one-half the 2,239 Haitians apprehended in all of last year, Long-Gay said. His figures did not include Monday's numbers.

At the same time as the Haitian outflow, the Coast Guard's Miami district is handling the biggest exodus of Cuban refugees since the Mariel boatlift of 1980. On Monday, the number of Cubans refugees this year reached 3,665.

With about 25 Navy and Coast Guard vessels off Haiti, there is little chance Haitians can reach Florida. But the Haitians may not even be trying to evade the Coast Guard.

"When you take a 12-foot boat out of (the southern Haitian port of) Jeremie, you are not trying to make it to the United States," said Cmdr. David Breuninger, Coast Guard liaison at the U.S. Embassy. "It is my opinion that they are going out there specifically to get picked up."

Of the 477 Haitians who have completed their asylum interviews, 130 have been granted refugee status, McCurry said. …

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