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180 Cubans to begin pilot exodus via Central America on Tuesday

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Jan. 11, 2016–Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 12, the International Office for Migration (IOM) will facilitate the exodus of 180 Cubans from Costa Rica, as a part of a pilot transfer of nearly 10,000 persons currently stranded in Central America, according to a statement issued last Wednesday by Costa Rica’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The Cubans are flocking to the US to take advantage of that country’s wet-foot, dry-foot policy—which provides special privileges for Cubans to legitimize their status in the US, even if they arrive without papers, but which turns them back to Cuba if they are detained at sea. They are scrambling because they fear that the policy—which sister countries in the region say has been unfairly preferential to Cubans—will be rescinded now that the US has normalized relations with Cuba.

The Government of Costa Rica announced last week that the pilot flight, capable of transporting 180 Cubans, is supported by various businesses. They are expected to depart from Costa Rica’s Aeropuerto Internacional Daniel Oduber, in Guanacaste, and transported to El Salvador. From there, they will travel by bus to Guatemala and then to Mexico.

The announcement listed three criteria for selecting who will get to go; among them being the order in which the migrants arrived in the country and their capacity to pay their expenses, including the departure tax from Costa Rica, and visa fees in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, where the travelers are expected to be processed and properly documented.

Media reports indicate that the intent is to send out two such flights daily, if the pilot process goes well.

There are reportedly 8,000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica and another 3,000 in Panama.

An official from the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs told our newspaper today that Belize would only consider participating in the transfer of the Cubans if it is part of a well-planned regional solution with assurances given by Mexico and the US that the migrants would be accepted.

We were told that while regional leaders had discussed the situation at a meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA) in Salvador late last year, no regional solution had been hatched, out.

Some countries in the region have come together to initiate the pilot transfer which will “test the waters,” to find out whether or not the migrations could continue to be facilitated.

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