Cuba has blamed the United States for encouraging illegal and unsafe immigration by tens of thousands of Cubans who have left the country in the past two years.
Havana released a statement on Sunday saying Cubans leaving the country illegally were the “victims of the politicisation of the migration issue by the US government which stimulates illegal and unsafe immigration”, Reuters news agency reported.
The US policy of welcoming Cubans without visas contradicted normalisation efforts between Havana and Washington, the statement added.
More than 46,500 Cubans arrived and were admitted to the US without visas during the first 10 months of the US government’s fiscal year 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. That figure compares with more than 43,000 Cubans in 2015 and just over 24,000 in 2014.
Unlike citizens of other countries, Cubans who make it to US borders have special entry privileges under the Cold War-era Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives Cuban citizens special welfare benefits and allows them to apply for permanent residency after 366 days in the country.
Under the act, Cubans who set foot on US territory are treated as legal immigrants, while people from any other country are considered illegal.
The large increase in the number of Cubans attempting to reach the US, particularly by overland routes through South and Central America, coincides with the restoration of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.
There are fears among ordinary Cubans that diplomatic normalisation between Havana and Washington will mean they lose their privilieged entry status to the US.
Regional governments have also responded to the increase in Cubans travelling overland to the US by closing down border routes.
Nicaragua was the first country to close its borders in November to Cubans travelling overland to Mexico and on to the US. Though initially facilitating the transit of several thousand Cubans through its territory, Costa Rica also closed its borders in April as numbers grew.
Nearly 1,300 Cubans are currently stranded in miserable conditions on the Colombia-Panama border after that route was closed.
“We only know they are going to be deported, but we don’t know how or in what form,” William Gonzalez, a regional Colombian government ombudsman, said last week.
Of the 1,297 Cubans who arrived in the Colombian border town of Turbo three months ago, about 300 are children aged 14 or under, as well as 11 pregnant women.
“What worries us most at this moment is the health and welfare situation of the 300 children,” he said, explaining that the Cubans have been living amid insects and rodents in a makeshift shelter with inadequate sanitary facilities.
‘Without any pressure or force’
Havana released its statement criticising the US on Sunday to coincide with the arrival of 14 Cubans deported by Colombia.
Colombia said last week that stranded Cubans requesting voluntary deportation would be granted safe passage to their home countries or to the last country they were in before entering Colombia.
For many of them that is Cuba or Ecuador.
“We wanted to handle this,” Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said of the stranded Cubans.
The US Coast Guard on Saturday reported that since October, at least 5,786 Cubans have been intercepted at sea trying to reach the southeastern US coast.