U.N. advisers to help U.S. interview Haitian refugees

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The United Nations will soon send a special envoy and a large group of advisers to assist the Clinton administration in its new policy of granting interviews to asylum-seekers from Haiti, U.N. officials in Geneva said yesterday.

As part of the effort, the world organization will try to persuade other countries in the Caribbean to allow the United States to bring refugees ashore to conduct the hearings, said Cheseke Dessalegn, director of the Americas bureau in the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.


Broad agreement on cooperation was reached on Thursday in a meeting between the commissioner, Sadako Ogata of Japan, and President Clinton's adviser on Haiti, former Rep. William H. Gray III, head of the United Negro College Fund.

Mr. Clinton, under pressure, announced early this month that he was changing the policy of returning all Haitian refugees. Refugees are now to be given hearings on their claims for political asylum aboard ships or in third countries.


The change was intended to end increasing criticism, particularly from black Democrats in Congress.

Sylvana Foa, a spokesman for Mrs. Ogata, said that the United Nations would bring "an enormous team" into the region to assist the effort.

Mr. Dessalegn said the United Nations would provide training for Immigration and Naturalization Service officials doing the screening and would establish an office in Haiti to oversee the care and processing of refugees. He said Mrs. Ogata and the new envoy for Haitian refugees, Kofi Asomani, would soon visit the region.

Recently, Mrs. Ogata called on the Clinton administration to ease the standards by which it judges whether refugees are qualified for asylum, citing the increase in political violence since Haiti's elected president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted in a 1991 coup.