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The BBC's Malcolm Brabbant in Miami
Worshippers in Miami's Little Haiti have been praying on behalf of the boat people
 real 28k

Monday, 3 January, 2000, 06:42 GMT
Boat people await US asylum decision

Florida's Haitian community have held a series of protests

About 400 would-be illegal immigrants, mostly from Haiti, have been spending another day on board US Coast Guard vessels off the Florida coast as they wait to hear whether they will be sent home.

Coast Guard officials say it is most likely that they will be returned to Haiti in the next few days.

But Haitian community leaders in the US say this is unfair and have been trying to persuade the US authorities to allow them to stay.

They say that if the immigrants had been from Cuba, they would have been given a chance to ask for asylum.

The boat was grounded within sight of the Miami skyline
However their lobbying campaign has been hampered by an inability to contact senior government officials in Washington during the millennium celebrations.

Their opponents argue that allowing the Haitians to stay would attract further boat loads of impoverished immigrants.

Immigration officials are due to board the coast guard boats later on Sunday to talk to the migrants.

Prayers for immigrants

Earlier worshippers at Miami's Church of St Paul and the Martyrs in the city's Little Haiti district offered prayers for the boat people, saying those on board should be given a chance to prove their case for political asylum.

"I'm sure that of the 400, we will have a significant number who prove to have a credible fear of returning," the Reverend Fritz Bazin told the BBC.

Haitians say Cuban refugees are treated more favourably
He said the US was unwilling to admit that its 1994 invasion of Haiti and its current mission to bring about democracy and stability to the island had failed.

Thousands of Haitians have attempted the 1000km (600 mile) voyage to Florida's shores, often in small leaky boats.

Most are considered to be fleeing poverty rather than political oppression and are subsequently repatriated.

The latest arrivals were travelling in a dangerously overcrowded boat that ran aground near Miami in the early hours of New Year's Day.

They had apparently thought that the distractions of millennium celebrations would have made it easier to slip past US radar tracking stations.

On Saturday around 100 Haitians living in Miami protested outside the main Coast Guard base to demand equal justice for their compatriots.

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02 Jan 00 |  Americas
Appeal for Haitian boat people
13 May 98 |  Americas
Miami police hunt for Haitians

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