In 2002, some 34,200 Cubans were seeking refuge abroad, mostly in the United States. About 25,300 of them, a 24 percent increase over the previous year, arrived in the United States by boat or at the Mexican border and were paroled in, rendering them eligible to apply for permanent residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act. USCR counts them, along with refugees and asylum seekers, as persons in need of international protection.

With a grant rate before the Immigration and Naturalization Service of 69 percent, another 3,000 were granted asylum or had cases pending at year's end. The United States also admitted 1,900 as refugees from Havana. In addition, there were about 1,200 Cuban refugees or asylum seekers in Spain, 1,100 in Costa Rica, 900 in Peru, and hundreds elsewhere. In fiscal year 2002, the United States apprehended about 700 Cubans at sea and returned them to Cuba. One Cuban asylum seeker stowed away in the wheel well of an airliner bound for Canada – enduring freezing temperatures, and oxygen deprivation. His claim was pending in Canada at the end of 2002.

Cuba itself hosted around 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2002. A total of 30 asylum seekers filed new claims in Cuba in 2002, half of them from Syria. Of the cases decided, 9 persons were approved and 33 persons were denied asylum status (15 of them were filed in 2001). The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettled 17 persons granted refugee status in Cuba to Canada, Sweden, and Britain.

There were 670 Haitians bound for the United States who accidentally arrived in Cuba in 2002 where they were received by the Cuban Red Cross and government authorities in Punta Maisi camp in Guantánamo province. All were repatriated by years end.

Human Rights in Cuba

Human rights violations sparked many of the departures. Hundreds of political dissidents were arrested and detained during the year, and some faced criminal prosecution. According to Human Rights Watch, "Cuba's legal and institutional structures were at the heart of rights violations." Cuban law penalizes enemy propaganda, spreading "unauthorized news," and insult to patriotic symbols. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the number of arrests suggests that a ten-year trend away from political imprisonment was coming to an end. In addition, experts on Cuban asylum indicated that warrantless searches, denials of the right to work and other harassment meted out to religious minorities, persons who seek to emigrate legally, and others considered by the government to be "disaffected," motivated many to leave.

In February, 21 Cubans crashed a bus into the Mexican Embassy in Havana in response to an erroneous report that the Mexican Embassy was offering Cubans refugee visas to go to Mexico. (Radio Martí had reported that the Mexican foreign minister had declared the embassy to be open to all Cubans, including dissidents.) The Mexican authorities reportedly stated that none of the persons had sought asylum or offered evidence that they were subject to persecution. The standoff ended when Cuban police arrested the Cubans reportedly at the request of the Mexican Embassy officials, as well as more than 100 others – including some 30 dissidents some distance away. President Castro went on television to denounce the asylum seekers as "antisocial elements." The government continued to prosecute people for attempting to leave without permission.

Asylum Procedure

Cuba is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention. According to the Cuban constitution, individuals may be granted asylum, but Cuba has no procedure for adjudicating claims. Instead, 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 cases submitted and makes the decisions. Rejected asylum seekers may request a review by the same UNHCR regional office in Mexico.

Cuba detains migrants without proper documents, including asylum seekers. However, asylum seekers are generally released if UNHCR requests it. UNHCR sometimes receives information about detained asylum seekers from external sources, but seldom from the Cuban authorities. UNHCR is granted access to such person but cannot confirm that there are no asylum seekers in detention in Cuba.

There were no reports of ill-treatment of detainees, although detention facilities were crowded. UNHCR reports that a change of premises of the immigration detention center improved conditions.


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