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Costa Rica declares ‘success’ after first airlift of Cuban migrants

January 15, 2016

The first group of Cuban migrants flown out of Costa Rica reached the border with Mexico Wednesday afternoon, marking the first successful airlift of the migrants after spending two months stranded here. Foreign Minister Manuel González said the “pilot program” was a success and that after meeting with the other countries involved in the airlift additional flights would be added.

Cubans are hardly the only Latin Americans trying to reach the United States, though. A New York Times article named Costa Rica as a potential host for U.N.-operated way station for Central Americans seeking refugee status in the U.S.

González told reporters that Costa Rican officials would meet with partners from Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico to discuss the results of the airlift within the next two weeks. If the countries agree, as many as two additional flights would start leaving daily from Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste, and Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela.

After the test run, families with children or elderly travelers will have priority on the flights out of Costa Rica. González said that Costa Rican Ambassador to the United States Román Macaya was speaking to Cuban-American leaders in the U.S. about coordinating funds for Cubans without the means to purchase the $555 ticket from Costa Rica to the Mexican border.

The first group of 180 left Tuesday evening, but there are still more than 7,600 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica. Besides those who already have temporary transit papers, another group of approximately 1,000 Cubans have been turned back at the Panamanian border. González said there were no plans at this time to include those Cubans in the airlift or grant them visas to enter Costa Rica.

Alongside Cuban migrants rushing to reach the U.S. through the isthmus, thousands of Central Americans are fleeing violence in their home countries. Faced with another wave of Central American asylum seekers, the U.S. is reportedly looking to the U.N. to help screen refugee applicants in the region before they reach the U.S., according to The New York Times. The article cited unnamed sources who listed Costa Rica, Belize and Mexico as possible host countries for the refugee-processing stations.

Foreign Minister González denied that Costa Rica was involved in talks to house Central American asylum seekers.

“If I haven’t heard about it it’s not true,” González told The Tico Times.

The Costa Rican foreign minister and President Luis Guillermo Solís travel to Guatemala on Thursday for the inauguration of Guatemalan President-elect Jimmy Morales. There, González said the leaders would thank Guatemala for allowing the migrants to pass.

Solís during a news conference Wednesday said he is pleased with how the first airlift went.

“This is a success for the country,” Solís told reporters. “It demonstrated the generosity of our people, the efforts of our institutions and the will of the government to defend our record in defense of human rights.”

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