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Last Of Haiti Refugees Forced To Return Home

U.S. Marines in riot gear rounded up Haitian refugees Friday for a forced voyage home, hoping to empty the camp in 10 days.

“They woke us up very early and said, ‘OK, let’s go,”’ refugee David Mombrun, 22, said as he awaited what would probably be his final immigration interview. “I didn’t feel good about the whole thing.”

Immigration officials hope to process 400 to 500 of the tent city’s 3,800 residents daily and put them on Coast Guard cutters to clear the camp in eight to 10 days, said Army Maj. Rick Thomas.

About 200 were roused Friday morning for interviews in which they were given their last chance to make a case for political asylum in the United States. Fourteen will remain at the base for further investigation to determine if it’s safe for them to return, Thomas said.

State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly said few, if any, will be given asylum against persecution, now that President JeanBertrand Aristide has been returned to power.

A group of 289 Haitians who did not volunteer to return to their homeland boarded a cutter that left the base Friday evening. Earlier in the day, 110 refugees who accepted incentives to return home left the base.

Fifty-four Haitians departed Thursday, the first group forced home since Aristide’s return. They arrived Friday in the capital, Portau-Prince, where about 50 U.S. soldiers and Red Cross and U.S. embassy officials met them.

Each was given $16.50 in local currency and a bag of snacks.