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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE ACLU Denounces Continued Detention of Haitian Refugees; Calls Clinton Administration Act `Illegal and Unconscionable' For IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 9, 1993 Calling for immediate action by the Clinton Administration, the American Civil Liberties Union today denounced as illegal and unconscionable the continued detention of Haitian refugees at Guantanamo Bay solely because of their HIV status. With more than 250 refugees at Guantanamo on a hunger strike to call attention to their plight, the ACLU called on the Clinton Administration to meet its obligations under U.S. and international law by bringing the refugees into the country. The hunger strike, which began on January 28, has already lasted 12 days. "Many of these refugees, who have been detained as long as 15 months, feel that they've been abandoned by the United States to die on Guantanamo," said Judy Rabinovitz, staff attorney for the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, who returned Friday night from a four-day visit to the camp. "The refugees are so desperate that they told us over and over again that they would stay on the hunger strike until they were taken off Guantanamo or until they die." Since the hunger strike began, many of the refugees have abandoned their primitive huts and are camped out on a soccer field. Rabinovitz described one refugee, George Berance, who was evacuated by a military ambulance after he collapsed and began vomiting blood and convulsing. Another refugee woman, Yolande Jean, passed out from lack of food but after regaining consciousness refused any medical treatment. In all, more than 30 refugees have passed out since the strike began. All of the 250 refugees at Guantanamo have undergone screening by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and have demonstrated a "credible" fear of persecution -- the standard used by the INS to determine who should be allowed into the United States to pursue claims for asylum, Rabinovitz said. Solely because they tested positive for the HIV antibody, however, the refugees and their immediate families were denied entry into the United States and forced to go through asylum processing on Guantanamo. Of the 119 refugees subjected to a second interview, 115 satisfied the "well founded fear of persecution" standard necessary to obtain political asylum. Yet they still have not been brought to the United States. "These are not economic refugees," Rabinovitz emphasized. "They fled Haiti because they legitimately feared for their lives. And they still fear for their lives. Yet, unlike Cuban refugees who are rescued from sea and welcomed with open arms, these refugees have been treated like criminals." One refugee interviewed by Rabinovitz and other lawyers said that after months of hiding, he was pursued by the military as he and 27 other Haitians attempted to board a boat to flee the country. Only 14 of them made it to the boat and at least one of the 14 who did not board the boat was killed while he watched. "When his boat was intercepted by the Coast Guard more than 15 months ago, he was handcuffed, taken to Guantanamo, left on the beach with no clothing, and cold water was thrown on him," Rabinovitz said. "He told me that `since that time I've been asking for death. I don't want to live anymore.'" Rabinovitz and other attorneys who have traveled to Guantanamo as advocates for the refugees say that the conditions at the camp are horrendous, with poor sanitation and barbed wire surrounding the living quarters. The refugees are prohibited from traveling outside the camp. In addition, many of the refugees describe abusive treatment by the military and inadequate military care. Several women complained of prolonged bleeding after being treated with the contraceptive drug depo-provera. Military doctors recently requested medical evacuation for several refugees with acute medical needs, including several with extremely low T-cell counts. But their requests were denied. "They are clearly desperate," Rabinovitz said, referring to the refugees. "Before President Clinton's inauguration, they had high hopes that once he took office, their situation would change. But it has been several weeks now and their hopes, along with their physical conditions, continue to deteriorate." --endit-- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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