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Costa Rica calls for regional meeting to address flood of Cuban migrants

November 17, 2015

Costa Rica Foreign Minister Manuel González called Tuesday for a regional meeting to establish a humanitarian corridor for Cuban migrants traveling to the United States. Several thousand Cuban migrants are stuck in Costa Rica as Nicaragua has refused entry to them since last Friday. The meeting, for which a date had yet to be set Tuesday afternoon, would include transit countries traveled through by the Cuban migrants, including Ecuador, Colombia, the Central American countries and Mexico, as well as Cuba.

“We need to come to an agreement and keep migrants from falling into the hands of [criminal] networks and coyotes, because let’s remember the objective of these migrants is to reach the United States and they’re going to do everything in their power to achieve it,” González said in a statement Tuesday.

Nicaragua, which until recently served as a receiving country for Cuban migrants detained in Costa Rica, stopped accepting Cuban migrants on Friday, Nov. 13. The country turned back 100 Cubans deported by Costa Rican authorities that day.

Then, on Sunday, the Nicaraguan army confronted several hundred Cuban migrants who tried to cross the border en masse, illegally, at Peñas Blancas, firing tear gas into the crowd and injuring several. Nicaragua requires Cuban nationals to obtain visas prior to arriving at the border.

Tuesday, after five days of waiting at Peñas Blancas, Cubans blocked the Inter-American Highway in protest of Nicaragua’s unwillingness to them in.

There are currently 700 Cubans staying at five shelters established by the National Emergency Commission, Costa Rican Red Cross, International Organization for Migration and U.N. High Commission on Refugees in La Cruz and at Peñas Blancas, according to a statement from the Commission. The Ombudsman’s Office has said that the temporary conditions for the migrants are acceptable.

President Luis Guillermo Solís said Costa Rica is committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the Cubans and to making sure their basic needs are met as they wait to cross into Nicaragua.

As thousands of migrants from Cuba try to reach the U.S. via the overland route through Central America, dozens of their compatriots have been turned back at sea. On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard returned to the island 39 Cubans who tried to cross the Straights of Florida. Under the U.S.’s so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, Cubans intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard at sea are returned to the island. They are only allowed to stay in the U.S. if they reach the U.S. mainland.

“The U.S. immigration laws have not changed so we urge people to not try to cross the sea in rafts that aren’t made for sailing,” U.S. Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor said. “It’s illegal and it’s extremely dangerous.”

AFP contributed to this report. 

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