PANAMA CITY – The more than 70 Cubans at an inn operated by the Catholic charitable mission Caritas asked Friday for the United States to make an exception for those who had left the island and were already crossing Central America before the “wet foot/dry foot” immigration policy was revoked.
“We only ask that they make an exception for those of us who were already on our way, that they let us continue and don’t immediately apply the measure and that they give us time to reach the United States,” the young Yancys Ricars, who left Cuba in early December with her mother and daughter, told EFE.
The US and Cuba announced Thursday a migration accord that immediately eliminates the “wet foot/dry foot” policy adopted in 1995, which gave Cubans the chance to obtain permanent residence a year after reaching the US, even if they did so illegally – except if they were intercepted at sea, in which case they could be returned to Cuba.
“I would a thousand times rather tramp through the Darien jungle (the natural border between Colombia and Panama) than go back to Cuba. May we please reach the United States!” cried Ulises Ferrer from Havana, who came to this inn with his 4-year-old daughter and his pregnant wife almost two weeks ago.
The new accord also put an end to the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (CMPPP), which was launched in 2006 and allowed professional Cuban doctors to seek asylum in the US after bailing out of their international missions or from courses they were taking abroad.
“You’re the ones who will pay for the broken dishes of this migration accord,” said the Caritas social director in Panama, Victor Berria.
The measure announced Thursday was long demanded by the Cuban government, which has sought to halt the exodus of Cubans in recent years, which became even more desperate following the diplomatic thaw that a year ago caused a humanitarian crisis by fleeing islanders crowding into Central America.
Thousands of Cubans were left stranded in Panama and Costa Rica, because Nicaragua closed it borders for alleged reasons of national security. The situation soon got critical.
According to figures of Panama’s National Migration Service, the Central American country in 2016 took in more than 27,000 migrants without papers, most of them Cubans but also including Haitians, Africans and Asians.
Amid the migratory crisis, the foreign ministers of nine Latin American countries – transit zones for the migrants – sent a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry asking the US to review its immigration policy with regard to Cuba.
At present, local authorities estimate that not more than 200 Cubans are crossing Panama, almost half of whom are staying at the Caritas inn.
“The future of Cubans who are deported (back to Cuba) will be gloomier still. They won’t give us jobs, they’ll leave us without a roof over our heads...we’ll have nothing,” migrant Osvaldo Gonzalez said.
As part of the accord, the Cuban government promised to take back all its citizens deported for trying to enter the United States illegally.
The Panamanian government has not yet made an official statement about the current situation or about the future of Cubans traveling through its country.