Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Guantanamo hunger strike

Mostly, when we hear of the wet foot/dry foot policy, it’s when migrants are intercepted at sea and returned to Cuba. Others, however, are sent to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo because when they are interviewed on the Coast Guard vessels, their statements indicate that they might qualify for refugee status because they establish a well founded fear of persecution if they were to be returned to Cuba.

In Guantanamo they are interviewed further, and a final decision is made. If they do qualify, the United States finds a third country to accept them for resettlement. That way, the thinking goes, the United States honors its obligation not to return people to a place where they face persecution, and at the same time avoids sending a signal to Cubans that getting picked up by the Coast Guard is the first step to gaining entry to the United States. (The U.S message is that rather than take to sea, they should go to the U.S. consulate in Havana where they can be receive a refugee visa to come to the United States if they qualify.)

The problem for those in Guantanamo is that, as Wilfredo Cancio reports in today’s El Nuevo Herald, the process takes a long time – he interviews one Cuban who has been at the base for more than two years; another has been there one year and three months. 22 of the 44 Cubans on the base are now in the tenth day of a hunger strike, Cancio reports, protesting the length of their stay and their treatment by U.S. authorities.

Representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an organization that helps to resettle refugees around the world, assist U.S. authorities at Guantanamo.

One of the hunger strikers and his pregnant wife were offered resettlement in Hungary. But for “reasons of idiosincracia” and the language barrier, Cancio reports, they declined to go to Hungary and at that point the IOM apparently withdrew its sponsorship of the couple.

The article does not tell if any other protesters have rejected similar offers of resettlement.

I don’t blame anyone for wanting to come to America. And maybe, as the protesters allege, they are mistreated at Guantanamo. But if the real grievance is that they oppose resettlement in third countries, then I find it hard to side against the U.S. government on this one. There are about ten million refugees in camps and holding centers around the world, and millions more who are displaced within their own countries. Very few receive offers of resettlement; the United States, for example, only admits about 50,000 refugees per year. Hungary, in the scheme of things, is not a bad option.


leftside said...

It is a sad commentary on the US press that this story has gotten so little coverage outside of Miami(exactly 20 papers have picked up the sole AP report), even though it is obviously newsworthy. It affects America and our treatment of "refugees," not to mention having multiple layers of rich irony. Perhaps that is the problem...

Meanwhile, a year ago we had hundreds of articles, as wll as international outrage against the supposed 7 month hunger strike of a sole Cuban (Farinas), which had nothing to do with America. And it was over something as silly as the supposed right in Cuba to FREE international internet access.

leftside said...

The absurdity of the US turning away supposedly presecuted "refugees" but taking in any Tom or Jose who washes up on Florida beaches (or gets caught crossing the Mexican border) should be obvious...