Human rights groups urge Powell to rethink discriminatory policy towards Haitian refugees

Report
from Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children
Published on 05 Apr 2004
New York, NY, April 5, 2004 - As Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Haiti Monday to assess international efforts to provide stability and humanitarian aid, he must also address the United States' discriminatory policy towards Haitian refugees. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children contends that U.S. policy towards Haitians violates international law, and in nearly all cases is forcing Haitians to return to the violence they fled without a chance to voice their asylum claims.
"There's no question that the best solution is to restore stability and democracy in Haiti and we applaud Secretary Powell for his visit," says Women's Commission Director of External Relations Wendy Young. "But at the same time, the United States must recognize that stability in Haiti is a long way off, and that we must offer protection to Haitian refugees fleeing the violence who turn to us for help."

In February, 1,000 Haitians were intercepted at sea and forcibly returned to Haiti; most were not even given an opportunity to voice their fear of political persecution and request asylum. More recently, 7 Haitian women were deported - one was 5 months pregnant - despite the continued insecurity and political violence throughout the Caribbean nation.

The Women's Commission and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) last week filed a petition with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention asking the organization to investigate the way in which Haitians are detained in the United States and declare that the government's detention policy violates international law.

David Shahoulian, with the law firm Holland & Knight LLP, which assisted the Women's Commission and FIAC with its UN filing says, "Refugee protection is fundamental to human rights around the globe."

The human rights body of the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, announced recently that it will investigate the interdiction and forced return of Haitian refugees by the United States.

"If the Bush Administration wants to truly be a friend to Haitians, it will immediately halt the deportations of Haitians in the United States and the interception and forcible return of Haitians at sea until stability and democracy are achieved in the troubled nation," says Young. "Until that time we have a legal and moral obligation to help those who come to us seeking safe haven."

For more information, please contact Megan McKenna, 212. 551. 0959, meganm@womenscommission.org