Colombia deports Cubans Romo pkg_00000320.jpg
Colombia prepares to deport hundreds of Cuban migrants
02:05 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Colombia says it won't fly stranded Cubans to Mexico

The group has been trying to reach the United States

They'll be deported back to Cuba, a Colombian official says

CNN  — 

Colombia says it will deport more than 1,200 Cubans who’ve been stranded in the South American country.

The migrants are trying to reach the United States but have been stuck for months in the northwestern city of Turbo, Colombia, near the Panamanian border.

Panama closed its border with Colombia in May to stop Cubans from passing through. The move left a growing number of migrants living in Turbo, where many camped in a warehouse that became a makeshift shelter.

The wave of new arrivals didn’t sit well with local authorities, who declared a state of emergency and called on officials from the federal government to step in.

This week, they did, declaring the group would be sent back to Cuba.

The Colombian government’s announcement is the latest volley in a battle that’s been brewing for months over Cuban migrants there. But the simmering tensions in Colombia are part of a much bigger picture.

And it all ties into one thing: a surge of Cubans trying to reach the United States.

Cuban migration to U.S. on the rise

Cuban immigration to the United States has spiked amid growing fears that U.S. immigration policies could be changing as relations between the two countries thaw.

While immigrants from other countries seeking asylum in the United States often struggle to make their case in court, Cubans don’t have to jump over the same hurdles. The Cuban Adjustment Act, passed in 1966, gives any Cuban who sets foot in the United States permission to enter. After a year and a day in the country, they’re eligible to apply for a green card.

The wave of migration has had a ripple effect across Latin America:

• Nicaragua closed its border to Cubans heading north last year, leaving thousands stranded to the south in Costa Rica.

• Costa Rica struck a deal in January to begin airlifting thousands of Cubans to Mexico, where they quickly crossed the border into the United States. Then Costa Rica closed its borders to stop more migrants from coming in. That left thousands stranded to the south in Panama.

• Panama began humanitarian airlifts in May that sent more than 3,100 stranded Cubans to Mexico, flying them to the border city of Juarez, where they crossed into El Paso, Texas. Now Panama’s borders are closed, too.

Colombia: Safety and security behind decision

And Colombia says it won’t follow suit with airlifts of its own.

“We would like to invite all of these irregular migrants to voluntarily come to migration authorities so that we can process their voluntary deportations,” Colombian Migration Director Christian Kruger said Wednesday.

The migrants, who started a Facebook page to draw attention to their plight, had asked the Colombian government to help them reach the United States by flying them to Mexico.

The Colombian government refused, saying Colombian law prohibits what Kruger said would amount to human trafficking.

In addition, Kruger said, there are as many as 50,000 undocumented migrants in neighboring countries such as Ecuador, Brazil and Guyana, and Colombia does not want to set a precedent.

Kruger said officials are also worried about the safety and security of the Cubans inside the warehouse.

“It’s not appropriate for so many people to be crammed together in a single location,” he said.

According to the Colombian Migration Office, 5,800 migrants have been deported from Colombia in the last two months alone. Most were Cubans, but there were some Haitians and others from as far away as Africa.

On the Facebook page, “Albergue Turbo Cubans for Freedom,” the Cuban migrants and their supporters say they aren’t giving up hope.

“One of the most decisive days for us has begun,” one woman posted on the page Wednesday. “Hopefully the world will join together in prayer. … Let whoever brought us here, gave us life and allowed us to survive in the jungle help us.”

CNN en Español’s Fernando Ramos contributed to this report.