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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
"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
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
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."
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