1,658 Haitians at naval base can enter U.S., pursue asylum


Nearly 1,700 of the Haitian refugees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be allowed to enter the United States to pursue their claim for political asylum, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said yesterday.

"We interviewed 7,511 [of the refugees], and 1,658 were found to have plausible claims for asylum," said David Austin, an INS spokesman. More than 300 of them, he said, already have been brought to Miami for processing.

RF But while the fate of the other 5,000 refugees -- who the INS said

did not have plausible claims for asylum -- hinges on a Jan. 22 hearing before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, a new stream is swelling their ranks at the tent city at the U.S. naval base.

Since Christmas, the Coast Guard has stopped at least five boats carrying about 600 Haitians headed for Florida. The refugees are being detained at Guantanamo Bay.

An 18-year-old woman, who had been on the deck of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter waiting for three days with 86 others to go through INS and other processing, said, "I would rather die than go back to Haiti."

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