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Monday, 28 August, 2000, 19:05 GMT 20:05 UK
US attacks Cuba on migration
Cuban intercepted by the US coastguard
Exit charges force dangerous sea-crossings, says the US
The State Department in Washington has accused the Cuban Government of systematically preventing Cubans holding American visas from migrating to the United States.

An official diplomatic note sent to the Havana authorities said an increasing number of refugees being rescued while undertaking the hazardous sea voyage to Florida were carrying valid US travel documents.

Cuba says the blame for the continuing deaths of fleeing Cubans is a 1966 US law that allows those who successfully reach US soil to remain.

The diplomatic note expressed concern that the Cuban Government was not allowing people who received US visas to leave - despite a 1994 immigration accord between the two countries.


A State Department official said US visa holders were not granted exit permits or were effectively prohibited from getting one through onerous permit requirements.

Havana street
An exit permit costs more than the average Cuban yearly salary
"This is what is driving people to go into shark-infested waters in rickety boats," the official said.

Cubans, who earn an average monthly salary of $10, have to pay $600 to leave the island - $400 for a medical examination, $150 for an exit permit and $50 for a passport.

The State Department said it did not have accurate figures, but cited a recent sample in the diplomatic note.

It said that over a 75-day period, 117 Cubans from 57 families had been denied exit permits despite having valid US visas.

Accord accusations

In the migration accord of 1994, the US agreed to grant a minimum of 20,000 visas to Cubans annually and to repatriate migrants picked up at sea or at the island's Guantanamo Bay US naval base.

Its aim was to discourage Cubans attempting the hazardous and illegal sea-crossing, but the US has often said Cuba is not honouring the deal.

Cuban officials, however, say the US is encouraging the dangerous crossing by offering Cubans more favourable treatment than other Latin American nationals.

The 1966 Law of Cuban Adjustment offers Cuban illegal immigrants residence and work privileges in the US.

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