U.S. officials granted political asylum Friday to six of the first 35 Haitian boat people interviewed at sea under President Clinton's new policy.
Authorities rejected asylum for the other 29 Haitians because they were not deemed political refugees. They will be sent back to Haiti within several days, State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly said in Washington.The six men granted asylum, clad in T-shirts, shorts and sandals, boarded a Navy transport plane in Kingston and flew to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, for fur-ther processing.
Steven Forester, supervising attorney for the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, complained that the asylum-seekers were not granted enough interview time or provided with legal aid. He called U.S. policy on Hatian refugees racist and said the repatriated boat people face arrest by Haiti's military.
"We approve virtually everyone in other parts of the world, but the Haitians we don't want," Forester said. "This is a scandal . . . that we repatriate 29 out of 35 people to that killing field and pretend we do good work."
The 35 Haitians had been picked up from three rickety boats in Haitian territorial waters. They were taken Thursday aboard the USNS Comfort, a 1,000-bed hospital ship anchored in Kingston Harbor.
Until May 8, Haitians fleeing by sea were returned to Haiti without interviews and told to seek political asylum at U.S. processing centers there. The United States maintained most were economic, not political refugees.
But as political violence escalated in the hemisphere's poorest country, Clinton revised the policy, allowing Haitian boat people a chance to argue their case for political asylum. The new policy was delayed while arrangements for shipboard interviews were made.
Those granted asylum Friday will be housed in Guantanamo while awaiting sponsors, such as family members or refugee centers. The base can hold 1,000 and is building quarters for another 1,000.
The Haitians also undergo medical screening.
Haitians denied asylum will be transferred to a holding vessel, the Ukrainian cruise ship Ivan Franco, which is also anchored in the harbor. From there, they will be repatriated to Haiti aboard Coast Guard cutters.
Jamaica signed a pact June 2 allowing the United States to process refugees for six months on board ships in Jamaican waters.