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Cablegate: Unhcr Havana Head Offers a Look at Third Country Refugee

VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUB #0694 3211806
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171806Z NOV 09
FM USINT HAVANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0000
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
RHEFHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS HAVANA 000694

DEPT FOR WHA/CCA, PRM/A

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PREL CU
SUBJECT: UNHCR HAVANA HEAD OFFERS A LOOK AT THIRD COUNTRY REFUGEE
SITUATION IN CUBA

1. On 4 November, RefCoord called on Alberto Aragon Cao, head of the
UNHCR office in Havana. Aragon, a Cuban national, has worked for
UNHCR in Havana for 17 years and speaks English well. He previously
worked in the Ministry of Education where he dealt frequently with
UNHCR on cases of foreign students in Cuba claiming refugee status.
He supervises one staff member and their offices are co-located with
UNDP.

2. In recent years, UNHCR has referred approximately 2- 4 cases to
USINT per year and approximately the same number to the Canadian
Embassy. The number changes significantly from year to year,
however. Records show that in 1994 and 1995 there were 41 and 23
referrals, respectively, followed by 6 years with no referrals.
Although there are 14 other embassies with whom Aragon says he can
work, if refugees do not have family elsewhere, he usually refers
their cases to USINT or the Canadians. This is for two reasons: The
European countries prefer to accept groups and most of the cases in
Havana are individuals; and only USINT and the Canadian Embassy are
set up to process refugees in Havana, the others do the processing
in their capitals. In the past, Aragon has referred cases to the
embassies of the UK, Finland, France and Brazil.

3. An Ethiopian refugee, who had studied engineering in Cuba on a
scholarship and is now working, was referred by UNHCR to USINT and
is scheduled to be resettled in Phoenix, AZ, in December. Aragon
expects to refer a few cases to USINT before the end of the year,
and about the same number to Canada. He currently has 12 refugees
in country, including 2 from Eritrea he plans to refer to USINT.
Many, but not all, refugees come to Cuba as students. Aragon said
there is no particular source country for refugees in Cuba, saying
they come from all over. For many, Cuba is simply the least
expensive country to visit.

4. Aragon reports that Cuba is not a signatory to any international
agreements regarding refugees and Cuban law does not require
protection of refugees or provision of first asylum. But the GOC
tolerates the presence of refugees awaiting resettlement because it
respects the mandate of the UN, including protection of refugees.
Aragon says, "They let us do our job." The GOC will not expel
someone once UNHCR has declared them a refugee. Refugees are issued
a document permitting them to stay, are required to check in with
Cuban Immigration every two weeks but generally are not allowed to
work. (The Ethiopian was working before he applied for UNHCR
protection.)

5. Unlike other locations around the world, UNHCR cannot rely on
NGOs or churches to help support refugees awaiting resettlement. By
agreement with the GOC, NGOs have limited functions in Cuba which
they do not want to exceed. For their part, churches lack the
resources needed to provide support services. Therefore, UNHCR must
cover living expenses for refugees. When medical services are
necessary, Red Cross helps facilitate care at specific hospitals
set up to handle foreigners. If there are dependent children who
need to attend school, the GOC has allowed them to attend certain
schools in Havana which are accustomed to accommodating foreign
students. Aragon noted that the law says all children have the
right to education, not all Cuban children. Meeting medical and
educational needs through informal or ad hoc arrangements is
precarious and Aragon wishes it were otherwise. Nonetheless, he
said, the job always gets done and the GOC has always delivered.

6. When asked if he had any questions about USINT's in-country
refugee program, Aragon said he knows about it but does not need to
know details. He is often asked about our program at public events,
but demurs.

Farrar

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