Cuba and US agree to stem refugees

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The Independent Online
THE United States and Cuba agreed yesterday on a deal intended to stem the exodus of boat people from the island. After a week of talks, Havana made concessions apparently because of the bad image presented by the thousands of refugees being picked up from rafts on their way to Miami from Cuba.

Under the agreement, the US will accept 20,000 Cubans annually for an indefinite period compared with the 2,700 accepted last year. In addition, 6,000 Cubans awaiting visas will be allowed to enter the US. In exchange, Havana agreed to take 'lawful and not violent' steps to prevent illegal emigration of its citizens, and promised not to mistreat any of the 30,000 Cuban refugees, now interned in camps in Panama, on US ships and at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who elect to return home.

President Bill Clinton, speaking in New Orleans, said: 'This agreement, when carried out, will help ensure that the massive flow of dangerous and illegal immigration will be replaced by a safer, legal and more orderly process.'

The agreement was reached after a week of on-again-off- again negotiations. At the start, Cuba wanted 100,000 immigrants to be allowed into the US over an unspecified period. Havana tried to link to any deal to an easing of economic sanctions and a timetable for removing the US embargo against Cuba.

The US stuck to its opening position by agreeing to take 20,000 Cuban immigrants a year. Priority will be given to those who have relatives in the US, or can prove they have skills that are needed in America. If this number does not add up to the 20,000 quota, the Attorney-General, Janet Reno, will use her discretionary powers to make up the numbers. Those wishing to come to the US will have to apply from Cuba. Arrangements for interned refugees who wish to return will be made through diplomatic channels.

In the deal there is no mention of easing the steps the Clinton administration took last month to tighten the economic embargo, including a ban on sending cash gifts to the island and on US charter flights from the US. And there is no mention of ending the embargo.

The pact came as pressure of the exodus of refugees on the Clinton administration appeared to be easing. About 1,000 refugees have been trying to enter each day but on two days this week the number had dropped to about 700.