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COAST GUARD WINDING DOWN REPATRIATION OF HAITI REFUGEES

The U.S. Coast Guard wound down Tuesday its repatriation of the thousands of Haitian refugees who fled their troubled homeland for the United States but were refused political asylum.

In the last of a long series of regularly scheduled returns from a U.S.-run refugee camp, 97 Haitians were handed over Tuesday morning to Haitian and Red Cross officials at the Port-au-Prince pier.The Haitians left the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Monday for the overnight trip to Haiti's capital in a Coast Guard cutter, the Legare.

Tuesday's return voyage - and perhaps another within a week - "appear to be the end of it, unless we have a large exodus," said the Coast Guard attache in Haiti, Cmdr. Larry Mizell.

At the height of the effort, two cutters arrived in this harbor four days a week, each carrying about 250 people.

As had previous returnees, the Haitians who arrived Tuesday were processed by Haitian Immigration and given Red Cross food-aid punchcards and $15 each for bus fare home.

The first person to walk down the gangplank held her 22-month old infant in arms.

Another returning refugee, Rosemarie Civil, 37, said it was difficult for her to return.

"I feel like I'm dying," she said, as she waited for the routine fingerprinting.

The refugees fled Haiti after the military overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September, many saying they feared political persecution. U.S. authorities said most of the Haitians were economic refugees.

So far, 9,445 Haitians have been sent home by the Coast Guard and 233 taken to other Caribbean countries, officials said.

At Guantanamo, 3,730 migrants remained at midday Monday. Nearly all have been granted the right to apply for political asylum in the United States.

Another 2,716 have already been taken to the United States, he said.

Mizell said U.S. immigration officials may again begin conducting on-board interviews of just-rescued Haitians, allowing the Coast Guard to immediately return people who do not pass the screening process to apply for asylum.