April 23, 1994
Dear President Aristide:
I am writing on behalf of myself and Rudy Stern. We just returned from a trip to the Bahamas which we made for the purpose of investigating the treatment of Haitians. I went with some of my students from Yale, Crowing Rooster and Roland Dorancy. On Monday when we see you at Yale we hope to give you a longer letter and possibly spend a few minutes with you to describe the desperate situation of Haitians in the Bahamas.
However we wanted to bring to your immediate attention an emergency situation regarding 325 Haitian refugees held in a barbed wire detention camp in Nassau. Sadly, today the Bahamas, with the assistance of the UNHCR, returned 94 refugees and by next week plans to return almost everyone. Immediate action is required from your government if the remaining refugees are to be saved.
On Thursday we visited these refugees many of whom were wearing shirts with your picture on them or carrying documents indicating they worked in your campaign. Many others demonstrated clear evidence of persecution and we believe will be arrested or even killed upon return. We met with Joseph Etienne about the situation and he told us that UNHCR was to interview the refugees. We told Mr. Etienne that we were concerned that UNHCR would validate the Bahamas desire to return the refugees. Mr, Etienne agreed with us that UNHCR might not be sympathetic to the Haitian plight and both he and Roland described the serious problems with UNHCR in the Dominican Republic.
Today our and the Haitians’ worst fears were realized. The process of repatriating them has begun. Amazingly this is being carried out with the assistance, or at least without serious protest, by the UNHCR. It must not continue. We believe both UNHCR and the Prime Minister of the Bahamas must hear strongly and immediately from your government. The Prime Minister’s home number is 809 323 4658; his office number is 809 327 5826. While we know that Mr. Etienne is concerned and is exerting maximum efforts, we believe you or other higher officials must request the Bahamas and the UNHCR to stop this inhumane act of turning people back to their deaths. We also believe a strong public statement by you condemning the Bahamas for returning the refugees is necessary. Three of the Yale students are in the Bahamas until noon and could go to the camp for interviews if the Bahamian government would allow.
Please feel free to call me or Rudy this evening, Saturday, or tomorrow Sunday at 212 XXX-XXXX or 212 XXX-XXXX. Our best wishes and we will see you on Monday at Yale.