Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba welcomes back doctors who fled to work abroad

The first members of a team of 165 Cuban doctors and health workers upon their arrival at Freetown's airport to help the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, on 2 October, 2014. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Cuban says its doctors are currently engaged in humanitarian missions in 68 countries

Cuba has said it will welcome back doctors who deserted while serving on government-backed programmes abroad.

The health ministry said doctors who fled in those circumstances would be guaranteed a job in Cuba and would incur no punishment or loss of status.

Some 25,000 Cuban doctors are currently working abroad in programmes organised by the island's communist government.

In the past, most Cubans who fled the country were banned from returning to the island, often for long periods.

The offer has also been extended to doctors who were allowed to emigrate on official visas, under a more open policy introduced in 2013 by President Raul Castro.

'Brain drain'

The Cuban government says it has some 50,000 health workers engaged in health projects in 68 countries. Half of them are doctors.

Critics say the highly-trained professionals are underpaid, while the Cuban government charges other countries for the service and make significant profits.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A team of 16 Cuban health workers travelled last week to the Caribbean island of Dominica, which was badly hit by Tropical Storm Erika

"We have agreements with other governments, by which we are compensated, with benefits to both sides," reads a health ministry statement published on the Communist Party newspaper, Granma.

"But we will continue to provide free assistance to the nations that request it. That is the case at the moment in Haiti, Niger, Honduras, Eritrea and other countries."

The United States previously accused Cuba of coercing doctors and other professionals to travel abroad and work in government programmes.

But last month the US State Department removed Cuba from its list of countries that fail to combat human trafficking.

"The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so," read the annual State Department report.

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