Costa Rica’s plan to remedy the crisis of some 8,000 stranded Cuban migrants is to fly them further north in Central America, but the migrants will have to pay over US$550 per person. Only 180 people are booked on the first flight scheduled for next Tuesday.
The first flight from Costa Rica to El Salvador will be a trial to determine whether additional flights will be scheduled to transport more of Cubans out of their current migrant limbo. The plan is the outcome of regional negotiations between Mexico and Central American countries.
The total cost per person of US$555 covers the airfare from Costa Rica to El Salvador, exit taxes in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala — which together amount to US$99 dollars — ground transportation from El Salvador to Mexico’s southern border, and food along the way, La Nacion reported.
The cost of travel for children under 12 years old will be reduced to US$370, according to La Nacion.
Children play at a shelter for Cuban migrants in the border between Panama and Costa Rica on Dec. 23, 2015. I Photo: Reuters
The flight, operated by the airline Avianca, will depart from Costa Rica’s northern city of Liberia on Tuesday evening.
According to Avianca’s website, an economy non-stop flight from Liberia, Costa Rica, to San Salvador on Jan. 12 would cost just under US$370 per person.
It is unclear who the passengers on the first flight will be. While some media have reported that the pilot trip of 180 migrants will prioritize families with children, other sources have said that the first flight will prioritize those who have been stranded in Costa Rica the longest, leaving families with children until a later trip.
Migrants are expected to arrive at the Guatemala-Mexico border on Wednesday night. There they will be granted 20-day transit visas and will be left to find and pay for their own transportation to the U.S. border.
If the first trip is deemed a success by authorities, additional flights will be scheduled, including from the city of Alajuela, north of the capital San Jose, to be closer to where some migrants are staying.
Costa Rican authorities have made it clear that the flight schedule is specifically for Cuban migrants and that people of other nationalities can not participate in the transportation plan.
Cuban migrants wait to receive humanitarian visas at a border with Panama in Costa Rica on Dec. 23, 2015. I Photo: Reuters
The crisis of Cuban migrants trapped in Central America started to escalate in November, when Nicaragua closed its border to migrants, leaving thousands stranded. In December, Costa Rica stopped issuing transit visas to Cubans, worsening the situation.
Aside from the 8,000 Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica, another 1,000 are stranded in Panama.
Governments of Mexico and all Central American countries except Nicaragua met in December to find a solution to the growing migrant crisis.
The flood of Cuban migrants travelling through Central America en route to the U.S. has been prompted by the renewal of U.S.-Cuba ties after decades frozen relations, which many expect could bring an end to a 1966 immigration policy that allows landed Cuban migrants to stay in the U.S.
Cuba has blamed the U.S.’s Cold War-era immigration policy for fomenting the current migrant crisis.
According to CNN, U.S. officials are expected to welcome the latest wave of Cuban migrants, as has been done throughout recent history.
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