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21 Cubans want to go back home

A group of Cuban detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has issued an emphatic plea to a federal judge to be allowed to return home.

In a handwritten letter faxed to the office of U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins on Thursday, 21 refugees said they wanted to go home and do not want to emigrate to the United States "under any circumstances."

The 21 were among a group of 23 Cubans who were scheduled to fly from Guantanamo to Havana on Tuesday. Atkins issued an emergency order halting that flight minutes before it was to leave.

"You, for some reason that I fail to understand . . . thwarted that possibility of returning with our families, which is our greatest desire, without us being present and without having considered our opinion," the letter said in Spanish.

The order to halt repatriations was sought by a group of prominent Cuban-American lawyers who filed a lawsuit Monday, demanding that about 30,000 Cuban rafters held at Guantanamo and in Panama be allowed into the United States.

The U.S. government began confining Cuban rafters after President Clinton reversed U.S. policy welcoming Cuban refugees.

Since then, 42 refugees have been returned to Cuba. Washington calls the repatriations voluntary, but refugee advocates say the detainees are coerced by squalid living conditions and a lack of legal counsel.

"The vast majority of the detainees do not want to go back to Castro," said Marcos Jimenez, an attorney for the refugees.