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Friday, 14 January, 2000, 19:10 GMT
Haitian family to be reunited

The fishing boat was intercepted 1.5km from shore

Haitian groups in Miami are claiming victory in their attempts to reunite a mother with her two young children.

All three survived the harrowing sea journey to Florida but were then separated as the US Immigration Service ordered a swift repatriation of hundreds of would-be refugees.

The mother, Yvena Rhinvil, is in south Florida and claiming political asylum. Her children aged eight and nine were sent back to Haiti along the other migrants who were aboard a wooden fishing boat that was smuggling them to the US.

The Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) has now ruled that the children can return to Florida while the mother applies for asylum.

A perilous journey

Ms Rhinvil and her children, Germaine and Mark, were among 411 would-be illegal immigrants who spent four days crammed shoulder to shoulder in a perilously overcrowded boat that set off from Haiti and finally came to grief 1.5km off the Miami coastline early on New Year's Day.

Most of the 411 would-be migrants were repatrited
Passengers on the boat said conditions were so claustrophobic and unsanitary, that 10 people committed suicide by throwing themselves overboard.

Despite large and angry protests in Miami, the United States Coastguard returned all but four of the refugees to Haiti.

One of those four was Yvena Rhinvil. She was four months pregnant and required medical treatment.

Earlier this week she was allowed to leave a detention centre and now immigration officials have taken the unusual step of allowing the children to come to the US to be with their mother.

Comparisons with the case of Elian

Miami's Haitian Grass Roots Coalition is in no doubt that the INS acted so swiftly because it was embarrassed over comparisons with the case of Elian Gonzalez, the six year old Cuban shipwreck survivor who's currently at the centre of a hostile international custody battle.

A Miami Beach protest agaist the repatriations
If the INS had followed its normal procedures, Elian should have been returned to Cuba immediately because he had not reached dry land.

But in the view of immigrant advocacy groups, the INS failed to properly check the status of the Haitian refugees even though the service was told there were children on board.

'Unequal' treatment

Haitian Americans are furious at the disparity and treatment between Haitian and Cuban migrants.

If Cubans reach dry land, they're allowed to stay here while Haitians are repatriated.

They claim Haitians are justified in seeking political asylum because of the country's dangerously violent atmosphere.

Haitians and their supporters plan to stage a demonstration in Miami this weekend to protest at what they believe is America's racist immigration policy.

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See also:
02 Jan 00 |  Americas
Appeal for Haitian boat people
03 Jan 00 |  Americas
US immigration policy branded 'racist'
14 Jan 00 |  Americas
Cuban mothers demand boy's return
13 Dec 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Shipwrecked Cuban boy stirs mixed emotions

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