PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A United Nations' agency that handles refugee issues on Tuesday called for better asylum screening practices for Haitian migrants picked up at sea.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement that more than 180 Haitians were intercepted by maritime officials in the Caribbean sea early this month. One hundred and seventy eight of them were picked up off the coast of Florida and sent back to Haiti.
The U.N. agency said it wasn't aware of any Haitian migrant being intercepted in the Caribbean sea who was given an access to an asylum screening.
"UNHCR urges all countries involved in interdiction operations to put in place screening procedures for Haitian migrants to determine whether some of them, including refugees, victims of trafficking, and unaccompanied minors, are in need of international protection," the statement read.
A spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said any migrant, regardless of nationality, who is picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and shows fear of being returned to his or her homeland is able to speak with a USCIS officer. This is to see if there's a credible fear for persecution or torture.
Hundreds of Haitians are intercepted at sea each year as they try to flee their impoverished homeland in rickety boats for the Bahamas or Florida.
The U.S. Coast Guard says it has picked up 190 Haitian migrants so far this month, compared to 89 in December and none in November.
Haiti is enjoying a relative period of calm but political divisions between the government of President Michel Martelly and his critics are expected to sharpen this year as the country heads toward legislative elections that were supposed to have been held in 2011.
The contest seeks to fill 10 vacant Senate seats, or one-third of the Upper Chamber, and for hundreds of seats at the local level.
The U.N. Security Council issued a statement Tuesday stressing the need for the country to hold the overdue vote before year's end. The delay happened because Haitian authorities haven't able to agree on the composition of an electoral body.