United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Cuba, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bc5a.html [accessed 13 July 2014]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Cuba hosted nearly 1,300 UNHCR-recognized refugees at the end of 1997, including about 1,100 Sahrawis from Western Sahara. The next largest group, numbering 129, were Sudanese. There were about 50 refugees of other nationalities. Cuba has not signed the UN Refugee Convention and has no procedure for determining refugee status. If aliens enter Cuba with false documents, whether or not they are asylum seekers, the authorities detain them. Detained aliens are kept separate from other prisoners. In practice, Cuba permits improperly documented non-Latin women and children to remain in hotels under supervision. Without a Cuban procedure for adjudicating refugee claims, UNHCR exercises its mandate on behalf of persons it recognizes as refugees. During the year, 27 refugees voluntarily repatriated from Cuba to five different countries. Another 239 Sahrawis voluntarily returned to Algeria, their country of first asylum. UNHCR was not aware of Cuba involuntarily returning any refugee during the year. Virtually all of the Haitians who had sought asylum in Cuba after Haiti's 1991 coup have repatriated. Interdiction and Return Between May 1995 (when a 1994 migration agreement with the United States was revised) and November 1997, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 996 Cubans, returning 579 to Cuba. It took 161 to the Bahamas and 22 to the Dominican Republic (persons who were interdicted in those countries' territories or territorial waters). The Coast Guard brought 151 to the U.S. naval base at GuantÁnamo Bay, Cuba, and 83 to the United States. The 83, including persons interdicted in inland waters and persons medically evacuated and paroled for other exceptional reasons, were not subject to the migration agreement. At year's end, 65 Cuban interdictees were still at GuantÁnamo, including 56 with "protect status." Another five cases were "on hold" and four persons awaited INS decisions. The "protect" cases awaited third-country resettlement. In April and May, six Cubans with protect status were resettled in Bolivia. In August, a Central American country resettled another seven protected Cubans from GuantÁnamo. The number of persons interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard while trying to leave the country remained about the same in 1996 and 1997. In fiscal year 1997, the Coast Guard interdicted 421 Cubans; the previous year, it interdicted 411. The Coast Guard noted that fewer of the Cubans interdicted were rafters in 1997, and that more were passengers on boats. The Cuban penal code makes "illegal exit" a crime punishable by up to three years' imprisonment, if the attempt to leave is nonviolent, or up to eight years if it involves violence or intimidation. Cuba imposes more severe penalties in cases involving hijacking. Although the Cuban authorities have imposed long prison sentences in some cases, at other times they have briefly detained returnees and then released them. According to the migration agreement updated in May 1995, Cuba will prevent its citizens from attempting to leave by boat or raft. In return, the United States has agreed to admit at least 20,000 Cubans a year directly from Cuba. In 1997, the United States approved the admission of 15,048 Cubans under this agreement, including 2,083 with immigrant visas, 3,639 refugees, 8,704 lottery "winners," and 622 other parolees. The United States "credited" 5,000 of the Cubans admitted from GuantÁnamo in 1994 as part of the 20,000 agreement for 1997. As part of the migration agreement, Cuba formally agreed not to punish for illegal departure Cubans whom the U.S. Coast Guard interdicts and returns. While the agreement is supposed to prevent direct retaliation for the illegal departure that immediately precedes the Coast Guard interdiction and return, it does not prevent Cuba from prosecuting the returnee on other grounds, including previous attempts at illegal exit. Cuba sometimes punishes returnees without actually prosecuting them for illegal departure, most commonly by denying them employment. The agreement also offers no protection to rafters or rejected asylum seekers returned to Cuba from other countries. During 1997, there was no monitoring of the treatment of returnees from the Bahamas and other countries. On February 11, 1997, a Cuban court sentenced six men returned by the U.S. Coast Guard to prison terms of 8 to 20 years. They were convicted of having used force to exit the country illegally. At least two of the men had twice previously attempted to leave Cuba by boat and been interdicted by the Coast Guard. Twice before, after shipboard interviews, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had determined them not to be in need of protection, and returned them to Cuba. USCR made several interventions in this case with INS officials. According to the INS's general counsel's office, the men failed to establish a reasonable possibility that they would have prevailed in their asylum claims because they had committed a serious nonpolitical crime in using violence and hijacking a boat. A USCR statement protested the INS's handling of the case, saying that if the men had been afforded a full asylum hearing, an immigration judge would have been able to weigh the force they used to escape the country against the severity of feared persecution. There were other cases during the year of returnees being arrested. On March 5, 1997, Cuban State Security interrogated Dr. Walter Quesada Leguis about his "illegal departure" to the U.S. naval base at GuantÁnamo Bay, Cuba, from which U.S. officials had returned him to Cuba proper. Dr. Quesada was fired from his job as a government-paid physician. On August 7, Dr. Quesada was imprisoned for six days and further interrogated, and threatened with a long prison sentence if he did not end his political activities. Refugee Resettlement In November, Canada resettled 132 Sudanese refugees from Cuba. The United States admits Cuban nationals directly to the United States as refugees through a program called "in-country processing." In 1997, the United States admitted 2,911 Cubans as refugees directly from Cuba. (As noted above, 3,639 refugees were approved for admission, but not all had actually been admitted to the United States by year's end.) In some cases, Cuban authorities have denied exit permits to persons on what appear to be state security grounds, or to men who have not completed military service. Many persons approved for refugee resettlement cannot afford Cuba's high exit fees ($550 for adults, $350 per child) and airfare, although exceptions are supposed to be made for them. (Wages in Cuba are equivalent to about $10 per month.) Cubans in the Caribbean In January 1996, Cuba and the Bahamas signed a migration agreement under which the Bahamas agreed to return Cubans who arrive by boat or raft. Bahamian authorities returned about 300 Cubans to Cuba in 1997. Jamaica and Cuba concluded a similar migration agreement in May 1996. Jamaica hosted 17 Cuban refugees at the end of 1997, none of whom had arrived during the year. In June 1997, Cuba signed a migration agreement with the Dominican Republic that reportedly provides for the repatriation of persons entering either country from the other without proper documents. The Dominican Republic hosted 31 Cuban refugee at year's end. During the year, the Dominican Republic granted asylum to two Cubans. Internal Migration In 1997, the Cuban authorities tightened restrictions on migration within Cuba. In April, the Council of Ministers approved Decree 271, which bars migration from rural areas to Havana and prohibits Cubans from residing in the capital without being formally registered. Estimates of the number of "illegal residents"commonly referred to as Palestinos (Palestinians) because of their homelessnessin Havana range as high as 400,000. Within a week after the new law's enactment, local police had evicted 1,600 "illegal residents" from the shantytown barrios on the outskirts of Havana.