Thousands of Cubans flee Castro over fears US open-door policy will end

Daily Mail

Thousands of Cubans are caught in a new refugee crisis triggered by President Obama‘s moves towards ending the embargo on the country, Daily Mail Online can reveal.

As many as 8,000 are living in squalor in Costa Rica where their attempts to reach the United States have stalled, with the central American country facing a growing humanitarian crisis over their presence.  

Encampment: This is how thousands of Cubans are living - in cobbled-together shelters largely open to the elements with growing fear of disease after they became stuck in Costa Rica as they made their way to America, fearing the open door was about to be closed by ObamaThe Cubans are trying to get to the US land border with Mexico, where they will be able to claim refugee status in America, and a rapid path to citizenship.

Thousands have fled the Communist country since Obama and Raul Castro last year ended more than 60 years of frozen relations.

They have moved in a panic prompted by fears that the detente would lead to the abolition of automatic refugee status for Cubans who reach the US land border.

The unforeseen consequence of a move to normalize relations has created a growing crisis in Central America.

In total 8,000 people are stranded in Costa Rica, which has become the final stop in a journey which for most began with flights to Ecuador, followed by long road trips through Colombia and Panama.

Costa Rica’s neighbor to the north – Nicaragua – has closed its borders to Cubans seeking passage on a route which would take them on to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and through Mexico to the US land border.

Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s left-wing president, is a close ally of Castro, and his action is seen as being in line with attempts by the Havana regime to stop people fleeing.

But the decision to seal the border, taken by Ortega in November, has created a mounting refugee crisis in Costa Rica.

There thousands of people who have run out of money, having paid people traffickers tens of thousands of dollars to get them to the US land border, are now unable to go any further.

More than 4,500 are being housed in refugee camps along the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua, 3,000 more on the Panama crossing and 500 or so scattered elsewhere in the country.

Most of the camps are in La Cruz, in the province of Guanacaste. The area’s population of 24,000 has grown by 25 percent because of the influx of Cuban refugees.

At one stage before Christmas, more than 150 Cubans were reaching Panama every day through Ecuador or Colombia.

All the temporary camps as a result are full to the brim and some Cubans have taken to sleeping on the streets while others have been taken in by Costa Rican families and churches.

Children, pregnant women and the elderly have been caught up in the impasse and the Red Cross in Costa Rica has been called into treat travelers for illnesses such as, diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, and influenza.

Doctors have also had to deal with an outbreak of chickenpox among dozens of Cubans who have been quarantined in a church close to the border with Nicaragua.

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