|The Cuban refugees landed on shore after being adrift at sea for days on a handmade sea vessel.|
|Weary and disoriented, they were happy and grateful for the warm welcome they got once on San Pedro’s shores.
After a lull following Fidel Castro’s illness last year, Cubans again are manning homemade boats in bold moves to find better living on trips to the United States of America, often by way of Mexico. A daring feat, but for eleven Cuban refugees (three females, eight males) who left their native land in Cuba for a search of better life in the United States turned up sea battered, sunburned and with chapped lips on Friday, April 25th at around 10:26 a.m. on the shores of Ambergris Caye.
The Sun was the first on the scene and from a distance saw the refugees coming ashore; several of the men held makeshift sticks that were utilized as paddles and hauled their boat to shore. On land, the immigrants whose ramshackle, 12-foot vessel was held together by a wooden and metal framework, was anchored and out came the refugees who seemed drained but confused as to their destination. By then, a crowd had gathered, and they informed them that they were on Belizean soil to which one of the men responded “Adonde? (where?)” and “Que vamos hacer ahorra?” (What are we going to do now?). Whilst they waited for authorities to arrive, generous island residents supplied the sea battered men and women with water. They were informed that the authorities were on their way and upon their arrival some five minutes later, the group was escorted to the San Pedro Police Department. There, they stayed overnight until the next day (Saturday) when they were handed over to immigration services in San Pedro.
The Sun placed calls to the San Pedro Police Department, the Director of Immigration and the Embassy of Cuba to find out their status, but all attempts to obtain comment have been futile and hesitant to a degree. The San Pedro Police Department confirms that the refugees were handed over to the San Pedro Immigration Department. Calls placed to the San Pedro Immigration Department are directed to Belmopan with Director Murillos. All calls to Belmopan were unsuccessful from Tuesday until press time Wednesday afternoon as the line was busy at all times. In an interview with Cuban Ambassador to Belize His Excellency Eugenio Martinez, correct protocol dictates that authorities should inform his Embassy of any Cuban refugees landing in Belizean soil within 72 hours of their arrival. A call placed to Ambassador Martinez on Tuesday was met with surprise as the Ambassador had not been informed of the arrival of the 11 Cubans.
According to information by anonymous police sources, the refugees were given the assistance they needed including water, food, some money, flash lights and basic supplies for their voyage back at sea. Has the word gotten out that Cubans can find asylum in Belize and set out to land here? That is one analogy the Police Department is investigating as the incidents are becoming a common occurrence on the island. Friday’s arrival marked the third refugee landing in Ambergris Caye, two at Holiday Hotel, in a span of four months.
Unlike Belize, the United States of America has a “wet foot/dry foot” policy regarding Cuban exiles. If the migrants make it to shore, they are allowed to stay in the US soil. If they are discovered en route, the US Coast Guard returns them to Cuba. A refugee who manages to make it to shore (“dry feet”) gets a chance to remain in the United States, and later would qualify for expedited “legal permanent resident” status and acquire US citizenship.
As Cubans see their immigration routes close one after the other, Honduras offers one of the last, indirect, ways of reaching the US. Honduras is the only country in the region that does not have an agreement with Cuba about immediate repatriation of Cuban nationals arriving in the country illegally. Despite all Cubans needing valid passports and consulted visas upon arrival, Belizean authorities have been closing their eyes to the growing tide of Cuban economic immigrants.
As explained by Ambassador Martinez, Cuban refugees are sent back to Cuba once they arrive in Belizean soil. The Belizean government counters the US “wet-foot, dry foot” policy with its own “see no evil, hear no evil policy,” which according to some officials might be doubling the number of Cubans arrivals in the last year. The increasing trend of Cuban arrivals has been concentrated on Ambergris Caye.