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Jewish Groups Protest Shift in Policy on Haitian Refugees

American Jewish groups are decrying the Bush administration’s new policy of intercepting Haitian refugees on the high seas and forcibly returning them to their native island without first hearing requests for political asylum.

No more refugees are being accepted at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where in recent months they have found haven while applying for asylum in the United States.

Now they are required to apply at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

Still, hundreds are leaving Haiti in small boats every day, fleeing the military dictatorship that overthrew Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide last Sept. 30.

The Bush administration announced the new policy over the weekend. By Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard had forced the return of at least one boat, which had on board 38 refugees.

Jewish groups, mindful of the fact that boats carrying refugees from Nazi-controlled parts of Europe were turned away from U.S. shores, have been outspoken on the Haitian refugee situation since the crisis erupted last fall.

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement Wednesday saying that the administration’s decision to return Haitian boat people to Haiti is “inconsistent with our country’s traditional sympathy for people fleeing persecution and fails to deal with the underlying causes of the crisis.”

Robert Lifton, president of the American Jewish Congress, said in a statement Tuesday that “it should be obvious to even the most uninformed political observer that a visit to the U.S. Embassy at this point would be the equivalent to signing one’s own death warrant.”

According to Gary Rubin, director of national affairs for the American Jewish Committee, “the embassy is inaccessible to many in the countryside and very restrictive in its decisions on refugee claims.

“Violence is endemic in Haiti since the overthrow of President Aristide, and the population lives in terror of uncontrolled military personnel and rural section chiefs. Our policy must recognize these basic facts,” he said.

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