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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Closes Door on Fleeing Haitians

WASHINGTON -- Haitians who flee their country by boat will not be allowed into the United States, but will either be taken to refugee camps in Panama or returned home. In the latest shift in policy, the U.S. government said Tuesday it wanted to halt a surge of fleeing boat people. The announcement came a day after more than 3,000 Haitians were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard. The move follows a decision to send four more warships and 2,000 Marines toward Haiti to prepare for a potential evacuation of U.S. citizens. "Those who are not political refugees will be returned," said William Gray, President Bill Clinton's special adviser on Haiti. "Those who are refugees will be given safe haven -- those that are picked up on the sea -- in Panama." Gray said Haitians who apply at U.S. offices inside Haiti will be allowed to come to the United States if they are granted refugee status based on a well-founded fear of persecution. In an earlier change of an immigration ban adopted from the previous administration, Clinton announced on May 8 that Haitians with a well-founded fear of persecution would be allowed to come to the United States to pursue their asylum claims. But a surge in refugees turned into a tidal wave Monday, with the U.S. Coast Guard intercepting 3,247 Haitians in 70 boats. More than 100 Haitians died when a boat capsized. The flow has swelled as the Clinton administration has tightened economic sanctions to force out the military leaders who ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September 1991. Michael Barnes, a former congressman and close adviser to Aristide, said he was confident Aristide would oppose the new U.S. policy. "For the people of Haiti who are trying to escape from the reign of terror, this is a step backwards," he said. Amnesty International U.S.A. called the new policy a double standard contrary to a law to treat all refugees equally. "It appears that the Clinton administration and the U.S. Congress are still afraid of Haitian refugees," said William Schulz, the executive director of the human rights organization. Gray said the first safe-haven site would be in Panama and that agreement in principle also had been reached with Dominica and Antigua.