The last direct flight carrying Cuban migrants out of Costa Rica arrived in Mexico on Tuesday, ending an effort to transport Cubans who have been stranded in Central America since mid-November.
Nearly 8,000 Cuban migrants had been stuck in Costa Rica after Nicaragua, a Cuban ally, began denying them entry. As the flow of migrants began to bottleneck at the border of Nicaragua, Costa Rica in turn closed its border to new arrivals, forcing additional migrants to seek shelter in neighboring Panama.
Panama and Costa Rica agreed on a solution to fly the migrants over Nicaragua to various cities in Mexico and El Salvador starting in January, from where they could continue north until they reached their destination: the U.S. border.
“This has been a successful operation, which included organizing nine flights in a period of three weeks and which was made possible thanks to exceptional measures of support and collaboration on the part of Mexico, Panama and governments of the Latin American region for humanitarian reasons and from a viewpoint of shared responsibility,” Panamanian Vice President and Foreign Minister Isabel De Saint Malo de Alvarado said Friday in a statement.
Although most migrants were able to continue on their journey, all arrivals from Cuba after the end of the flight operation on March 8 have been left to comply with Panama’s standard immigration laws, according to the Latin American Herald.
A small number of Cubans are still in Costa Rica as well, said Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, unable to make the journey north for various reasons, according to Agence France-Presse.
The process has undeniably had its share of challenges, from lost passports to missing information and logistical setbacks. Tired of waiting in the shelters, approximately 2,985 migrants chose to take their chances with immigrant smugglers (although some reports estimate the number is closer to 4,000).
According to Costa Rican news source Tico Times, the Solís administration has sought to highlight Costa Rica’s respect for human rights after having helped cause the migration crisis in the first place. The country’s handling of the situation has been praised, and with good reason; Costa Rica issued 7,800 temporary transit visas to the Cubans in just four months, and sheltered 5,500 migrants in 44 locations across the country. These efforts were aided by dozens of families, community groups and religious organizations that helped provide both shelter and food.
“We’ve never had such a large number of migrants together at one time,” President Solís told Tico Times on Friday morning, as one of the last planes carrying Cuban migrants left for Mexico. “Look how they’re leaving – they’re leaving happy and tranquil, thanking the people of Costa Rica.”
The migration of Cubans to the United States has gathered speed in the past few years, with the renewal of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Many Cubans fear that the 1961 Cuban Adjustment Act will be eliminated, and with it, the opportunity to obtain residency in the U.S.