mmigration officers tear-gassed more than 600 angry Haitian refugees who had been involved in a near-riot following a hunger strike at the Krome Refugee camp here today.
About 100 refugees escaped during the melee by cutting through wire fences. By mid-afternoon 98 Haitians had been recaptured after a helicopter search across the Florida Everglades by Immigration guards and Dade County police.
"We don't know if any others got through," said Mike Trominski, spokesman for the camp in the Everglades 25 miles west of Miami.
One Haitian man was hospitalized after he apparently was trampled during a scuffle, and another 20 were treated for minor injuries after club-swinging federal officers stormed the camp a second time to quell mounting tensions.
"There were no serious injuries," the spokesman said.
Later 27 refugees identified as "rock throwers and ringleaders" were transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami.
Tensions have been rising at the camp since Sunday when a contract security guard kicked a chair at some Haitians. The guard was removed and later fired. All week some refugees have refused meals in protest of camp conditions, transfers to other refugee facilities around the nation and stepped-up deportation proceedings by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The trouble yesterday began before breakfast when the male Haitians in Building Eight began complaining and shouting loudly. "It was a mood thing," Trominski said.
The half-dozen camp guards in the facility withdrew as a precaution because they were not armed. The crowds followed the guards into the camp yard, which is surrounded by three fences topped by barbed wire. The guards locked the gates behind them while the Haitians continued to chant for freedom.
"Let us have our liberty or we'll tear this place apart" was the rallying cry, according to observers.
"When the group began marching toward the fence and throwing rocks, some guards threw in two or three cannisters of tear gas to try to disperse them," Trominski said.
Meanwhile the other refugees escaped through a rear fence in the compound.
About noon the camp's officer-in-charge, Cecilio Ruiz, went into the compound to hear the Haitians' demands, but those discussions "broke down," the spokesman said. He did not elaborate on the specific request.
"We had to send the officers back in," he said. About 40 federal prison officers brought in for assistance and INS guards stormed the compound "in riot formation" with batons and helmets to break up the crowd that was surrounding Ruiz, Trominski said. "Batons were used to a limited extent," he added.
The crowd dispersed and "the whole thing ran out of steam" by about 2:30, Trominski said. "We have had no problems since."
About 50 Border Patrol guards from El Paso were flying to Miami last night to reinforce camp security.
About 900 of the 1,060 refugees detained in the camp yesterday were Haitians. The camp was designed to hold 575 refugees but has been overcrowded as a result of the unending influx of Haitian "boat people" into South Florida this summer.