In 2003, some 28,200 Cubans were seeking refuge abroad, mostly in the United States. Some 17,500 arrived at the Mexican border, 6,600 in Miami, and 1,200 by boat elsewhere 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. About 1,200 sought refugee in Costa Rica. In Canada, 155 Cubans applied for asylum, 149 were granted, and 171 had cases pending at year's end. About 200 sought refuge in Argentina and 45 in Brazil.

The affirmative grant rate of for Cuban cases in the United States was 52 percent, down from 69 percent the year before, and about 2,200 were granted asylum or had cases pending at year's end, either before asylum officers or immigration judges. The United States also admitted just over 300 as refugees from Havana, a drastic decline from the 1,900 the year before.

There were 26,200 new Cuban refugees and asylum seekers in 2003, including an estimated 25,300 parolees and 731 asylum applicants.

In fiscal year 2003, the United States Coast Guard apprehended about 1,600 Cubans at sea – more than double last year's number – and summarily returned them to Cuba without meaningful opportunity to seek asylum.

Cuba itself hosted about 800 refugees including 721 Sahrawis who came for studies with the intention to return to their camps in Algeria when done. The others included Ethiopians, Eritreans, Sudanese, Afghans, Congolese, Palestinians, Iranians, and Iraqis, many of whom were also studying in Cuba where they became refugees sur place. UNHCR adjudicated 32 cases with 6 pending at the end of the year. Cuba also put an Iraqi family of eight in a process of chain-deportation through which they were eventually returned to Iraq without an opportunity to apply for asylum.

On March 18, taking advantage of international distraction with the war in Iraq, the government began what Human Rights Watch called the worst crackdown in a decade or more resulting in about 80 arrests of dissidents, human rights activists, independent librarians and others and accused of "conspiratorial activities." Cuba lacks independent courts and 75 were convicted without due process with sentences averaging 19 years. Amnesty International declared all 75 to be "prisoners of conscience." Cuba also executed the hijackers of a ferryboat.


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