Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Ja: The promised land

TWO hundred and forty-four Haitians who fled to Jamaica during the violence which ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in late February want to remain in the island permanently and have applied for refugee status.

Minister of Information Burchell Whiteman told yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House that their applications are being processed.

The procedure, he explained, included the verification of applicants' identities, an assessment of whether each person would be in personal danger if he/she returned home, and determining whether the application was really about political or economic pressures, as opposed to personal safety.

While stressing that it would be in Jamaica's best interest to complete the process as quickly as possible, Senator Whiteman cautioned that the procedure, in general, was time-consuming and would be even more so with 244 applications to wade through.

The information minister explained that 235 Haitians had already returned home while 24 of the 268 who were still here are awaiting the appropriate arrangements for their return journey and are expected to leave shortly.

There was a general outpouring of sympathy when the first set of Haitian boat people arrived on the island's shores in mid-February but as the numbers swelled to almost 600, there were rumblings about the financial strain they were creating. The official position of the government, however, has always been that everything possible would be done to help the country's Caribbean neighbours.


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