SYDNEY – The Australian government confirmed on Wednesday a group of Cuban refugees entered the country, under the immigration agreement signed with the United States during the Obama administration, but which was later criticized as stupid by current US President Donald Trump.
Seventeen Cuban immigrants who arrived in May 2016 at a lighthouse in the Florida Sea and spent more than a year at the US Guantanamo Naval Base, in Cuba, after a US court ruled that they could not be taken into the country.
“These refugees were evaluated by Australian Government officials and meet the criteria of Refugee and Humanitarian Visas,” a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection told EFE.
The source said in an e-mail that the Cuban refugees, who arrived in the eastern city of Brisbane, Queensland, on July 31, were subjected to “rigorous health, character and safety examinations.”
However, he did not specify whether this was the first group to arrive under this agreement reached during the Obama administration, in which the US pledged to take in some 1,250 refugees that Australia detained in Nauru and on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
In return, Australia has committed to take in some 30 people considered “vulnerable” from several Central American countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, according to sources close to the Australian government.
The agreement strained relations between Washington and Canberra following a telephone conversation in February between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in which the US president scolded the pact as “stupid,” but later pledged to respect it.
Alexander Vergara Lopez, one of the Cuban refugees taken in by Australia, told EFE that he found himself at ease in the city of Brisbane, where he is still in contact with the rest of the group, consisting mainly of men in their 20s and 30s.
Like his companions, Vergara spent a year at the US Guantanamo Naval Base after a federal judge ruled that they could not avail themselves of the “wet feet, dry feet policy” which would have allowed them to stay in the US.
Through this policy, Cubans who reached land in the US could stay in the country, but those who were intercepted at sea before reaching the coast would be deported to Cuba.
This policy was rescinded in January by then-President Barack Obama.