A court ruling that gives the federal government a freer hand in detaining and repatriating Cubans and Haitians will breed desperation and uncertainty in refugee camps, a lawyer who sued the government says.

"In my view, they are in indefinite detention," said Frank Angones, a Cuban-American lawyer from Miami who helped file one of two lawsuits over refugee treatment that are before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals."When people lack hope and don't know why they are behind bars and have no time limit on how long they're going to be held, it makes them desperate," he said Tuesday.

The court decided Monday to free the government of restrictions that grew out of the lawsuits while the judges consider broad issues such as whether the refugees have a constitutional right to legal counsel.

The 11th Circuit did not indicate when it would rule on the issues, but a Clinton administration officials saw Monday's action as a promising sign the government's policies will ultimately prevail.

"Pending a final order, we see it as a good omen," assistant Attorney General George Phillips said. "It means we can proceed as a matter of policy, as opposed to trying to comply with court orders."

The government had appealed several rulings by U.S. District Judge Clyde Atkins in Miami, including one that blocked all repatriations and another that required equal treatment of young Haitian and Cuban refugees seeking access to the United States.

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The 11th Circuit dissolved those rulings, as well as its own interim ruling last month allowing some voluntary repatriations and broadening access by lawyers to the refugees.

About 24,000 Cubans are at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and several thousand more are under U.S. control in Panama. About 4,000 Haitians are at Guantanamo.

The government has been sending home refugees who asked to return, while refusing admission to the United States to most of those given "safe haven" at the camps.

Angones acknowledged the government has not sent any Cubans back to their communist homeland against their will.

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