Chairman of the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops' Committee on Migration
November 22, 1991
The news that off the coast of Cuba a boat filled with Haitian refugees capsized with the subsequent loss of life is a replay of a recurrent tragedy. The loss of these lives is not the first such occurrence, nor, sadly, is it likely soon to be the last. For example, it is estimated that since 1975, 400,000 Vietnamese have perished at sea in their efforts to leave Vietnam.
The decision by governments to repatriate refugees forcibly is not an acceptable solution to a complex problem. Forced repatriation is a short.term solution at best in the effort to discourage prospective refugees from risking perilous journeys. Governments must recognize that what drives such departures is not only the denial of human rights but also the desperation borne of economic stagnation and political instability.
Our nation and other nations in the area should establish adequate holding centers where Haitian refugees can be effectively screened to determine the validity of their claim for refugee status. Such screenings should recognize the complexity of motives for departure. It is reassuring that a number of Haitian refugees have been temporarily settled in Honduras, Venezuela, Belize and Trinidad. The willingness of so many other nations within the region to assist in this time of crisis is commendable. Our own nation must be true to its legacy of welcome to the stranger. It should use the remedies available under U.S. law, such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS), political asylum, and humanitarian parole. Already, 103 Haitians have been brought to the 'U.S. for asylum processing. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), will be preparing the asylum claims for 51 of that number.
The international efforts currently underway to stabilize the political situation in Haiti must be accelerated. The people of Haiti cannot be held hostage by political struggles. Our national and the international community must respond to the catastrophic economic needs in Haiti.
The plight of Haiti is not unlike that of Vietnam. Forced repatriation of refugees is always repugnant and, as a policy, is short sighted. The international community should establish one or more alternate holding centers to alleviate the pressures on Hong Kong. The present policy of screening refugees should be revised so that criteria of determination more realistically weigh the motives for departure. Coupled with these measures there must be an international effort to assist Vietnam in it's economic development.
In letters to President Bush, I have addressed both the issues of forced repatriation of Vietnamese refugees from Hong Kong and the more recent U.S. Policy of forced repatriation of Haitian refugees. I hope the President will renew his rejection of forced repatriation from Hong Kong, and will reverse our present policy of forced repatriation of Haitians.
Several developing countries have acted very generously to the plight of refugees on their borders. It is my hope that all countries, including our own, could move toward a coordinated effort to provide the best possible care for refugees while at the same time attempting to address the causes that have are producing what is fast becoming a world.wide problem.