the coup d'état of September 29, 1991, thousands of Haitians have fled
the country, setting out by sea aboard small and unsafe craft.
One of the reasons for the massive exodus of Haitians is the
harsh crackdown against groups that support President Aristide, which
was particularly brutal in certain neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince.
Another reason for the massive exodus has been the very bad
economic situation, which was exacerbated by the predictable shortages
resulting form the trade embargo.
crackdown and the deteriorating political and economic situation forced
many people to flee the country, many across the border into the
Dominican Republic, others aboard small boats bound for the United
States. Other boats headed
for Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela,
their passengers seeking asylum. While
the United States Coast Guard intercepted many of these boats, it is
suspected that many others have sunk and their passengers drowned.
to the coup d'état in Haiti, the United States Government, based on a
bilateral agreement with Haiti, had a policy of intercepting Haitian
vessels on the international waters of the Caribbean Sea and returning
their passengers to their country of origin.
Over a ten-year period (September 1981-September 1991)
approximately 20,000 Haitians had been intercepted under the terms of
that agreement. Since the
coup d'état, estimates are that some 40,000 Haitian nationals have been
intercepted by the Coast Guard, and 30,000 of them returned to Haiti.
the boats were intercepted, the Haitians were taken to the United States
Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where they were interviewed by
representatives of the United States Immigration and Naturalization
Service to determine whether, under international law, they were
eligible for refugee status.
United States Government had argued that the Haitians' reasons for
fleeing their country were mostly economic in nature and not political,
so that they had to be screened before asylum could be granted.
On November 18 and 19, 1991, the United States authorities
returned to Haiti over 500 people who had requested asylum.
As a result of these events, many suits were filed in the United
States federal courts in Florida, by nongovernmental organizations
representing the refugee "boat people".
The suits were based on the possible physical danger to which
these people would be exposed if they were forcefully repatriated.
U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction to suspend the
enforced returns. At the
same time, the news media and attorneys for the boat people were
authorized to visit Guantanamo Bay.
It was said that some 33% of the cases involved people who were
eligible for refugee status.
January 31, 1992, the Solicitor General requested a stay of the
preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. district court, which the
United States Supreme Court granted. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights twice requested
the United States Government to suspend the practice of returning the
Haitians on humanitarian grounds.
the massive exodus of Haitians continued, on May 24, 1992, the United
States Government enacted the "Interdiction of Illegal Aliens"
Executive Order which revoked and replaced the 1981 order.
It would allow any Haitian intercepted on the high seas by the
United States Coast Guard to be returned immediately to Haiti.
Under the terms of that executive order, the Attorney General
requires Haitians seeking asylum in the United States to apply through
the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince.
It was said that the purpose of the executive order was to
protect the lives of Haitians who set out to reach the United States in
argued that the executive order was based on the premise that the
principle of non-refoulement contained in the United Nations
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees did not apply because
Article 33 was not self-executing as to persons situated outside United
States territory. The
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the
other hand, stated that paragraph 1, Article 33 of the 1951 Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees, concerning the principle of non-refoulement,
was self-executing both within and outside United States territory.
July 29, 1992, the Federal Court of Appeals declared that United States
laws prohibited the government from returning Haitians who were fleeing
the country in vessels without determining first whether they were being
persecuted. The Court added
that the current United States policy of intercepting all vessels that
would appear to be carrying Haitian refugees prevented those refugees
from seeking asylum in other countries such as the Bahamas, Jamaica, or
Cuba. On August 1, after
the Government appealed that decision, the Supreme Court, by a vote of
seven to two, suspended the injunction, thus allowing the government to
continue its policy of intercepting and returning Haitian refugees.
Supreme Court set August 24, 1992, as the deadline for the Government to
submit its case, while attorneys for the Haitian refugees would have
until September to argue their points.
The outcome of this legal proceeding is not yet known.
It is possible that the process will go on until all remedies
have been exhausted, which means that Haitian refugees will continue to
be repatriated without being given a hearing to make their case for
it was announced that the refugee facilities at Guantánamo Bay Naval
Base had reached maximum capacity.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service reported that 10,736
Haitians had been moved to the United States so that their applications
might be processed, except for some 274 people who turned out to be HIV-positive
and would therefore remain at the Guantanamo Bay facilities; their
applications for asylum would continue to be processed from there.
first week in January 1993, 45 Haitian refugees went on a hunger strike
at the Krome Detention Center (located on the outskirts of Miami) to
protest the immigration policy, which they claimed gave preference to
Cuban refugees. The hunger
strike began two days after the release of 48 Cubans who had arrived in
Miami on December 29, 1992, aboard a commercial airliner that had been
January 20, 1993, approached, departures of refugees resumed and it was
feared that when the new administration took office in the United States,
there would be a massive exodus of 200,000 refugees.
On January 14, President-elect Bill Clinton went on radio with a
message asking Haitians to remain in their country and informing them
that when he was sworn into office, the "boat people" would
continue to be intercepted and returned to Haiti.
The new administration announced a global plan to restore
democracy in Haiti and secure the return of deposed President Aristide.
It also reported that operation "Able Manner",
involving 20 United States Navy vessels and 10 aircraft, was being
launched just off the Haitian coastline to prevent hundreds of Haitians
from perishing at sea. Human
rights groups representing the Haitian refugees condemned the
announcement, saying that the action was a violation of international
law and United States law, which make it unlawful to return the refugees
and expose them to reprisals without giving them an opportunity to
establish their eligibility for asylum.
236 Haitians were intercepted and taken directly to Haiti during the
first week of this year. Another 102 refugees, among them eight survivors of the
sinking "Vierge Mirage" which had 400 Haitians on board,
returned from Cuba via the air-bridge between Cuba and Haiti.
That bridge was the initiative of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees, in cooperation with the Red Cross of both
countries. Some sources say
that since January 12, 1,298 refugees have decided to return to Haiti
the refugees are returned to Haiti, they are met by customs officials,
who fingerprint and photograph them, and take their general data.
Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross and
diplomats from the United States Embassy have said that the refugees are
not mistreated upon their arrival.
However, human rights groups have said that the exhaustive
identification made of each one of the refugees has created certain fear
of what could happen to them later.
certain cases it was indicated that a number of repatriated haitians
were arrested at their homes and later some of them were found dead.
Others were beaten in public by soldiers who forced them under
threat of arms to identify other repatriated persons.
In other cases it was indicated that some repatriated individuals
were taken to the National Penitentiary where they were subjected to
torture and denied food.