As Panama Closes Its Border, U.S.-Bound Cubans Now Stuck in Colombia

By Kausha Luna, May 30, 2016

As Panama concluded its final round of airlifts, approximately 100 Cuban migrants are now stranded in Turbo, Colombia.

Panama closed its southern border with Colombia on May 9, 2016.

According to Colombia's General Director of Immigration, these migrants are waiting for the Colombian government to offer them a direct flight to Mexico, as was done in Panama and Costa Rica. (See here and here.)

The director said, "From the beginning, we have respected the rights and integrity of each of these migrants. We have also been clear that Migración Colombia and the National Government will not provide any aircraft to transport them to a different location other than the border where they entered Colombia or their place of origin, because otherwise we would be contributing to these criminal gangs, who do not seek anything but to profit from the needs of foreign citizens."

The mayor of Turbo also noted that Colombia has no treaty which permits an airlift, like the one from which Cubans stranded in Panama benefited. Moreover, Colombia does not have deportation agreements with Cuba, "so the only opportunity for migrants is to take the safe passage [permit] and exit toward Panama, or toward Ecuador, or toward the country from where they entered." Nevertheless, Cubans continue to enter the municipality, and they are coming from various places, including Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, and Ecuador.

One Cuban migrant said, "Our plan is to stay here until they do an airlift, but not back to Cuba, to somewhere closer to our destination," the destination meaning the United States.

In addition to Cuban migrants, Panama's border closure has also stranded illegal aliens of other nationalities: Haitians, Congolese, Ghanaians, and Senegalese. In May, Colombia's immigration authorities detected 756 migrants in transit, and 3,800 since January.

If the number of stranded Cuban migrants continues to grow, the government of Colombia may be inclined to seek an agreement to airlift the Cubans out. However, a similar agreement is not possible for the non-Cuban illegal aliens, because their country of destination (the United States) does not guarantee that it will receive them – as it does with Cubans under the "wet foot, dry foot policy" – and so Mexico will not accept them.