Date Publish: 
Monday, January 11, 2016

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been working with countries in the region to provide humanitarian, holistic care and based on the human rights approach to Cuban migrants that are stranded in Costa Rica, and to facilitate their departure from this country.

The Cubans travelled voluntarily and with authorization to Ecuador and then moved, through Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. According to what these people have said, the final destination is the United States.

This humanitarian crisis began on November 14th, 2015 and, since then, a total of 7,802 people have been stranded and being accommodated in 38 shelters run by the government of Costa Rica. Of the total of people in the shelters, 70 percent are men, 26 percent women and less than 4 percent are girls, boys or teenagers who are traveling with their relatives. It is also estimated that there are about three thousand Cuban migrants in a similar situation in Panama.

The Costa Rican government has taken this as an immigration crisis with urgent need for immediate assistance to the Cuban population, based on humanitarian principles. In this context, the United Nations System appointed IOM as the lead agency in the field, and interlocutor with governments in the region and potential donors. The Government of Costa Rica formally called for IOM´s support in the coordination of assistance to individuals and for an optimal management of the shelters; as well as technical support to identify the best ways to overcome this crisis.

IOM has continued to work closely with regional governments and the private sector to find a viable, dignified and speedy exit for this Cuban population. As a result, this January 12th, there will be a pilot plan launched for the first group of 180 Cuban migrants with which is expected to begin the departures from Costa Rica.

In response to the request of the Government of Costa Rica, IOM identified from a market survey, commercial possibility for Cuban migrants leaving the country through a travel package which must be funded by them. This first flight will leave from the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste, bound for El Salvador. The selection of the first group, which will leave Costa Rica, was based on three criteria: whether the person was in a shelter; their arrival date, according to Immigration visa; and their ability to pay the costs of the transfer. The whole process is governed by the immigration legislation of each country en route: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

The Cubans who are stranded in Costa Rica are economic migrants. The restoration of this option allows them to continue their journey by their own means. None of the governments of the countries involved and no international organization will assume the costs of the transfer.

It is a public - private partnership strategy that aims to provide a commercial, legal, dignified and safe exit, through private companies, which could resolve this crisis of stranded migrants and prevent them from falling into the hands of traffickers, from abuse, exploitation and organized crime.

This pilot project will be evaluated by all governments in the region. If approval is obtained, the daily transportation of Cuban migrants could become a reality, while it could serve as a model for other countries in similar situations. This is an exceptional measure to cater to this stranded population in Costa Rica.

IOM believes that this pilot does not diminish the urgent need to continue providing humanitarian assistance to the people who remain in shelters in Costa Rica. IOM recognizes and congratulates the Governments of the region by the progress made, especially regarding the enlistment of different institutions that can help guarantee the migrant’s rights.

IOM also recognizes the sovereignty of nations to manage migration flows, and recalls that when the migration takes place in line with human rights, all parties benefit.

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For more information, please contact Alba Miriam Amaya, IOM El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras at [email protected]