Colombia denies airlift for Cuban migrants, to begin deportations
BY JIM WYSS
Colombia will begin deporting thousands of undocumented migrants —
including an estimated 1,273 Cubans — who have been stranded in the
country after Panama shut its southern border in June, authorities
Colombian Migration Director Christian Kruger is asking the migrants,
many of whom are stranded in the northern town of Turbo, to turn
themselves in for voluntary deportation. Otherwise, they will be sought
out and expelled, he said.
He said air force and police aircraft were standing by to take them back
to Cuba or Ecuador — the last point of entry for many.
Cuban migrants had been asking authorities for an airlift to Mexico —
like Costa Rica and Panama have previously done — so they could make
their way to the United States.
But Kruger said that Mexico would not allow the flight, that illegal
migration constituted human trafficking and an airlift might spark an
even greater influx.
"In neighboring countries like Ecuador, Brazil and Guyana there are more
than 50,000 irregular migrants that might demand the same treatment," he
The decision came after the government held an emergency meeting late
Tuesday that included President Juan Manuel Santos. Authorities also
said they're reinforcing the southwestern border with Ecuador, where
many of the migrants were crossing, and would begin prosecuting those
who knowingly provide transportation and housing to undocumented migrants.
The focus of much of the attention has been a warehouse in Turbo where
more than 800 Cubans are thought to be staying. Kruger said that
authorities were seeking the legal right to enter the building and that
they planned to prosecute the owner.
Last week, the office of the Ombudsmen said it had counted 1,273 Cubans
in the vicinity of the port city, although a spokesman for the migration
officials have also put that number at 950.
The drama is generating high-level attention. On Wednesday, former
President Alvaro Uribe asked authorities to let the Cubans stay here, or
be allowed to travel to countries that would protect their human rights.
Dozens of Miami-based Cuban artists also sent Santos an open letter
asking that their countrymen be allowed to stay.
On Wednesday, Kruger told RCN radio that none of the Cubans had asked
"They have no interest in staying here," he said. "We're simply a tool.
. . . What they're interested in is reaching [the United States]."
This Andean nation is just the latest country to deal with the Cuban
migration crisis. In November, Nicaragua closed its borders to Cubans,
creating a backlog of islanders in neighboring Costa Rica. That country
ultimately shut its border to new arrivals in May, creating swelling
numbers in Panama. In June, Panama shut down its southern border,
forcing Colombia to address the issue.
Once on U.S. soil, Cubans are considered refugees and have access to a
series of benefits. Latin American leaders have blamed those policies,
enshrined in the Cuban Adjustment Act, for the influx.
"Colombia isn't the cause or the origin of this situation," Kruger told
RCN. "Colombia is being affected by the migratory policies of the
destination country [the United States] and neighboring countries that
allow them to enter and begin their journey."
Source: Colombia says it will begin deporting undocumented migrants -
rules out airlift to Mexico | In Cuba Today -