Panama calls for regional solution to Cuban migrants

2 min

Panama City (AFP)

Panama on Friday called for a regional solution to growing numbers of Cuban migrants stranded on its territory as they try to make it to the United States.

This week, around a third of the 3,000 migrants -- mostly Cubans, but some Africans among them -- piled up near Panama's border with Costa Rica and forced their way across before all but 120 were made to return.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the next country northwards in Central America, have closed their borders to Cuban migrants since late last year.

"Panama reiterates its concern over the current crisis of Cuban migrants in Latin America, as well as its interest and readiness to find a sustainable solution in coordination with the countries of the region," Panama's foreign ministry said in a statement.

In a three-month-long operation that ended last month, Costa Rica organized flights out of its territory for 8,000 Cubans who had become stranded there by Nicaragua's border closure. It now refuses to let any more in.

Panama conducted a similar operation in March, flying 1,300 Cubans out to Mexico. But since then, more arrive every day.

The Cubans all aim to get to the United States, which has a law dating back to the Cold War that permits them automatic entry and a fast track to residency.

Many Latin American countries resent that privilege for Cubans and are reluctant to facilitate their passage.

Costa Rica and Panama this week both expressed frustration at the US policy, which they argued acted as a magnet for Cubans.

Both have already called for a regional approach to the problem, with the aim of including the United States in any solution.

Many of the Cubans seek to trek overland from Ecuador, through Colombia, then through Central America into Mexico and up to the US border.

Although their Communist-run island lies just 155 kilometers (95 miles) from the Florida coastline, under US law any Cubans picked up at sea are sent back to their homeland. They have to arrived on US soil to be allowed entry.