Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2018, 16:17 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Cuba

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Cuba , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis 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 1,044 refugees and asylum seekers in 2001. Of these, 901 were Sahrawis from Western Sahara. The next largest refugee groups were Ethiopians (39), Afghans (26), and Sudanese (16).

In 2001, 94 individuals filed asylum applications in Cuba with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Of the cases adjudicated, UNHCR recognized 25 as refugees and rejected 73; eight cases were pending at year's end. The recognized refugees were Afghan, Ethiopian, Iraqi, and Palestinian.

According to UNHCR, Cuba did not forcibly return any asylum seekers or refugees during the year. One refugee voluntarily repatriated to Chile in 2001.

Cuba permits UNHCR-recognized refugees to remain in the country while awaiting a durable solution. During the year, 23 refugees were resettled from Cuba to other countries (nearly all to Canada).

Asylum Procedure

Cuba is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. Individuals may be granted asylum according to the Cuban constitution, but Cuba lacks a procedure for adjudicating refugee claims.

UNHCR conducts all refugee status determinations. Cases come to the attention of UNHCR if a detained migrant requests an interview or if friends or relatives abroad contact the refugee agency and request its intervention. The UNHCR regional office in Mexico reviews the files and makes the refugee status decisions. Rejected asylum seekers have the right to request a review by the same UNHCR regional office in Mexico.

Cuba detains improperly documented migrants, including asylum seekers. However, asylum seekers are generally released at the request of UNHCR. The refugee agency has indicated that there were no reports of ill treatment of detainees and that although detention facilities were crowded, conditions for detainees were satisfactory.


In November, several boats carrying Haitian migrants destined for the United States landed in Cuba. This was the first time since 1994 that significant numbers of Haitians had arrived in Cuba. In December, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration facilitated the voluntary repatriation of 723 of the Haitians. UNHCR monitored the repatriation program and considered five requests for asylum; none of the Haitians was granted refugee status.

At year's end, 267 of the Haitians who had arrived in November remained in Cuba. They were detained in camps jointly operated by the government and the Cuban Red Cross.

Cuba and the United States

In 2001, Cubans continued to attempt to reach the United States without authorization by boat. Several boats capsized, resulting in the deaths of at least 37 persons – including 15 children – during the year.

The Cuban government continued to blame the rise in human smuggling and the deaths of Cubans at sea on the United States' "wet-foot/dry-foot" policy. Under this policy, Cubans intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba; those who reach the United States may remain and apply for permanent residency after one year.

The United States placed the blame for migrant deaths on Cuba, criticizing unnecessary delays and improper denials of exit visas for Cubans eligible to immigrate to the United States. Exit visas cost $600 – the equivalent of 5 years' salary for a professional in Cuba. During the year, of the 1,001 persons approved for travel to the United States, 21 remained in Cuba because they could not afford the exit fees.

The U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 777 Cubans in 2000, a decrease from 1,000 in 2000 and 1,619 in 1999. Direct returns to Cuba occurred pursuant to 1994 and 1995 migration agreements between Cuba and the United States. Under the terms of the agreements, Cuba promised to try to prevent its citizens from attempting to leave by boat or raft. In return, the United States agreed to admit at least 20,000 Cubans each year directly from Cuba either through the refugee admissions program, with immigrant visas, as parolees, or through a special lottery.

As part of the migration agreements, Cuba formally agreed not to punish interdicted and returned Cubans for their illegal departure. U.S. officials routinely monitored returned migrants to verify that the Cuban government did not mistreat them. UNHCR does not consider Cubans repatriated by the United States as returning refugees and does not monitor them upon their return to Cuba.

Restrictive Measures

In June, Pedro Riera Escalante, a former Cuban consul and intelligence officer in Mexico City, was sentenced by a military court to six years in prison for leaving Cuba illegally, using false documents, and bribing officials to allow his departure. Riera Escalante had sought political asylum in Mexico, but the Mexican authorities deported him in October 2000 without hearing his asylum claim.

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