Friday, March 24, 2006

Honduras closes borders to Cuban migrants

Honduras closes borders to Cuban migrants

Friday, March 24, 2006

Honduras appears to be shutting off one of the few routes left open to
Cuban migrants hoping to escape the repressive communist system of their
island state, with the refusal to accept refugees that arrived on board
a cruise ship this week.

The five male Cubans had been travelling on a small wooden boat and
appeared to be in good health at the time they were picked up by the
cruise liner, the Norwegian Jewel, which anchored in Grand Cayman on
Wednesday afternoon, officials reported. Honduran officials would not
allow the group to land, indicating that effective 1 March that country
will no longer accept illegal Cuban migrants.

The majority of migrants reaching the Cayman Islands shores do so on
their way to Honduras, which traditionally has granted Cuban migrants
short-term visas. However, the Cubans generally make their way north to
the US. Under the controversial wet foot/dry foot policy, most Cuban
migrants picked up at sea are repatriated to Cuba, but those who make it
to US territory can stay.

The Norwegian Jewel was the second cruise ship within a week to arrive
at George Town harbour with Cuban refugees on board. According to a
Government release, the ship arrived around 11:00 am Wednesday, 22 March
with a small group of Cubans who had been rescued at sea on 20 March
while the ship was en route to Honduras.

The Cubans were not allowed to disembark in the Cayman Islands and
remained on board when the liner departed Grand Cayman for next
scheduled ports of call – Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Nassau, Bahamas —
before returning to Miami. Cayman’s Immigration Department officials
boarded the cruise ship as part of their regular clearance duties and
confirmed that members of the group were all in good health.

As none met entry requirements, officials did not allow the Cubans to
disembark. Immigration officers returned to the ship prior to its
departure late Wednesday, 22 March, to ensure that all members of the
group remained aboard. In the meantime, eleven Cuban migrants who had
arrived previously were returned to Cuba that same day in accordance
with Government policy.

The twenty-eight Cubans picked up by a Carnival cruise ship last week
that were refused permission to land in Jamaica, the Cayman Islands,
Mexico and Texas, were to be handed over to the US Coast Guard Monday,
and were expected to be repatriated.

Cruise ships and commercial shipping vessels must alert US authorities
ninety-six hours in advance when they plan to arrive at a US port and
provide a complete passenger list. Cuban migrants picked up by cruise
ships are deemed “wet feet” and are generally not permitted to land
unless they can show they qualify for asylum.

Meanwhile there was still no sign on Wednesday of the 28 Cuban asylum
seekers who disappeared from the Civic Centre where they were being held
in Breakers last Sunday. The Cuban escapees had permission to leave
during the day but were expected to return in the evening.

The group of 28 included 27 (eleven females, nine males and seven
children) who had arrived in Grand Cayman on 9 December, 2005. Also
missing is a Cuban man, Juan Guerra, who arrived on 13 April, 2005, and
subsequently spent almost a year incarcerated while he sought political
asylum in the Cayman Islands. He was recently relocated to the centre
from HMP Northward.

They are not the first Cuban migrants to disappear from Cayman custody.
Washington Post correspondent Mary Jordan alleged in a July 2004 article
that nine Cubans had bribed their way out of jail in the Cayman Islands
and paid smugglers to take them to Honduras.

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