Latin America & Caribbean

Cuban migrants: Pope Francis urges quick solution

Pope Francis at St Peter's Square Image copyright EPA
Image caption Pope Francis said many of the Cuban migrants were victims of human trafficking

Pope Francis has called for Central American countries to show generosity in dealing with the rising numbers of Cuban migrants stranded in the region.

Several thousand Cubans are stranded at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, hoping to reach the United States by land.

Nicaragua has refused to allow the migrants to pass through its territory.

The Pope said many of the Cubans passing through Central America were victims of human trafficking.

"I invite the countries of the region to renew with generosity all necessary efforts in order to find a rapid solution to this humanitarian drama," the Pope told tens of thousands of people at the Vatican's St Peter's Square.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Cuban migrants say they prefer to try their luck through Central American than returning to Cuba
Image copyright AP
Image caption The migrants have been stuck near the Penas Blancas border crossing since November

Pope Francis will visit Mexico in February. Migration will be one of the main topics of his visit.

He is due to celebrate mass in Ciudad Juarez, close to the border with Texas.

'Wet foot, dry foot"

Many Cuban migrants fear that the thaw in relations between Washington and Havana may put an end to the preferential treatment given to them.

The number of Cubans trying to make their way to the US through Latin America by land has risen sharply since December 2014, when the two countries announced they had agreed to begin restoring relations.

The United States has a special immigration policy for Cuban citizens, known as "wet foot, dry foot".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Migrants are hoping to reach the US by land

It allows Cubans who reach the US by land to apply for residency while those who are intercepted at sea are turned back.

The policy has led to a rise in Cubans trying to make their way to the US through Latin America by land.

Nicaragua, a close ally of Cuba, closed its border to the migrants in November, accusing Costa Rica of dumping the migrants on its doorstep.

'Humanitarian corridor'

Many of the migrants flew from Cuba to Ecuador, which did not require Cubans to have visas. Ecuador has since changed its visa policy for Cubans.

From Ecuador, the Cuban migrants travelled north through Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica until they were stopped by Nicaragua.

The move has caused tension between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Some 3,000 Cuban migrants are believed to be stranded on the Costa Rican side of the border.

Costa Rica demanded that a "humanitarian corridor" be created to allow the migrants to continue their long journey to the US border, about 2,400 km (1,500 miles) away.

It also tried to persuade Belize and Guatemala to allow the migrants to go through their territory.

Last week, Nicaragua proposed that the migrants be airlifted to the US.

Cuba's communist government has accused the US of encouraging illegal migration by sticking to a dated Cold War policy.

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