By Damian Fowler
BBC, New York
It has been seven years since Everson Farrell arrived in New York, a refugee from the devastating volcano that destroyed his home on the small Caribbean island of Montserrat.
Everson Farrell has established a home and a business in the US
In this corner of the Bronx, Mr Farrell rebuilt his life from scratch. These
days he has a thriving business, a fiancee and four children, three of them
"I'm fitting into this society," he says, gesturing proudly towards the
garage and bodyshop he established which is adorned with his country's flag.
But now his new American life is in jeopardy, and this time it is not an act
of God that threatens him.
After being dormant for centuries the volcano started erupting in 1995. Thousands of people fled Montserrat, mostly to Britain, which is still the colonial power of the country, and other surrounding islands.
But 292 refugees, including Everson, eventually came to the United States where they were given "temporary protected status", meaning they could live and work here until the threat subsided.
But recently the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stunned this small
group of Montserratians by revoking their temporary status and ordering them
to leave by the end of February 2005. Ironically, it wants them out
precisely because the situation has not improved.
It declared that volcanic eruptions are "not likely to cease in the
foreseeable future. Therefore it no longer constitutes a temporary
disruption of living conditions that temporarily prevents Montserrat from
adequately handling the return of its nationals."
It has taken a month for this community to react to the declaration. But
this week the Montserrat refugees are meeting in New York and Boston, where
most of them live, to plan a strategy.
At the heart of this plan is a bill that would convert the 292 Montserrat
refugees to permanent residents. It is being sponsored by Congressman Major
Owens, a Democratic representative from Brooklyn.
Earlier in August Congressman Owens expressed his outrage with the DHS decision.
The volcano destroyed the southern part of Montserrat
"This is a heartless action and a blatant disregard for human life. There
is a real anti-immigrant sentiment that governs the Bush administration when
it comes to particular areas of the world and the Montserrat case is just
one example," he said on his website.
Since the Montserratians started their lobbying efforts, they've garnered
support from politicians and newspapers across the country, including the
Washington Post which called the decision "absurd and cruel".
But the Department of Homeland Security defended its decision as being in
keeping with the letter of the law.
"The fact is, temporary protected status is not meant to be a permanent solution," said William Strassberger, a spokesman for the government agency.
As an example, he points to the fact that Bosnians returned home after the war in the former Yugoslavia, and other foreign nationals have always returned after the crisis
in question abated.
Advocates for the refugees are in effect asking the government for compassion, arguing that they can't go home again.
The Soufriere Hill's volcano destroyed the southern two-thirds of Montserrat, burying everything in volcanic rubble and ash.
"This [decision] is not a natural disaster like the volcano when you had to
run," said Vera Weekes, the assistant director of the Caribbean Research
Center at Medgar Evers College at City University of New York.
"But here there's no disaster that means you have to be thrown out like a terrorist or
you're really of no value. And that is a burning shame."
One solution suggested by the government is for the refugees to move to England, where many already have family.
That's little consolation to Marian O'Garro and her 12-year-old daughter, Zanyl, who lost everything in the volcano and have now settled in New York.
"Who are we going to England to live with?" said Ms O'Garro.
"After seven years this is home. My mother is here, my sister is here and my two kids are here."
"To think that you have to uproot and leave everything again, it's very