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Refugees in second year at HIV camp

Published Dec. 13, 1992|Updated Oct. 12, 2005

Some Haitian refugees are entering their second year at what critics call the world's first HIV concentration camp despite complaints from U.S. health officials and military officers.

Unlike tens of thousands of Haitians sent back to their homeland, the 277 men, women and children kept at Guantanamo Naval Base's Camp Bulkeley have recognized claims to political asylum.

But they also have something that leaves them in legal limbo _ tests showing they are infected with the AIDS virus and thus "excludable" from the United States.

At a cost to the United States of $55-million, they have lived, some for more than a year, in crowded cinderblock or plywood huts with only hanging sheets to give them privacy. They sleep on canvas cots and use portable toilets.

Reporters were allowed into the camp last week for the first time since June.

"We have done nothing wrong, but every morning we wake up to look at this," said Rosenick Jean, 23, gesturing toward barbed wire fences and guard towers.

The man who runs the base, Col. Stephen Kinder, said he would shut the camp down if he could. He already closed a punishment stockade used for discipline, cleaned up the site and even put cable television in one center.

Kinder learned Friday during a media tour that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had refused his plea to send four Haitians with full-blown AIDS, including two pregnant women and a 7-year-old girl, to the United States for treatment. Military doctors here say they have no facilities to treat advanced cases.

"I don't understand why they denied it," Kinder said, holding a sleeping 2-year-old in his arms.

INS spokesman Duke Austin in Washington said he knew nothing of the denials. But, obviously irritated, he added there was no reason Guantanamo couldn't keep AIDS sufferers.

"We have no policy allowing people with AIDS to come enter the United States for treatment," Austin snapped. "They're going to die anyway, aren't they?"

Many will, doctors agree. But federal health officials have expressed worries that Camp Bulkeley is damaging the health of the ill Haitians and of uninfected family members confined with them.

Dr. James Mason, assistant U.S. health secretary, wrote INS Commissioner Gene McNary in March, saying the crowded camp environment increases the risk of HIV transmission.

Mason's staff said the INS never replied.

Dr. Paul Effler of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the same warning, calling the camp "a potential public health disaster."

Dr. Hal Hill, Camp Bulkeley's infectious disease specialist, agrees that the camp is not a good idea.

He said doctors and aides have aggressively counseled camp residents in hopes of keeping infections to a minimum, but condom supplies don't seem to be dwindling rapidly.

In addition, fewer than half of those prescribed AZT and other AIDS-fighting drugs are taking them, he said.

In New York, attorneys for the Haitians are fighting at various levels _ including the Supreme Court _ to have the Haitians treated as if they were on U.S. soil.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has the power to grant the infected Haitians entry to the United States.

The lawyer for the Haitians, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the camp's very existence is unacceptable.


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