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Marooned Cuban refugees settled in Oz

31 August 20170 comments

Seventeen Cuban refugees who were found marooned on a lighthouse off the Florida Keys last year after fleeing their homeland in a self-made boat have been resettled in Australia.

Before January 2016, the men would have been automatically accepted into the US under its “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

Five months ago the group was informed they had been accepted for resettlement in Australia and they arrived in Brisbane at the end of last month, after travelling via the Dominican Republic, France and Dubai.

But as part of improving relations with Cuba, President Barack Obama ended the policy and the men were transferred to detention in Guantánamo Bay.

On arrival, one of the men Alexander Vergara Lopez praised Australia as a “very free place”.

“It’s a dream – we are very happy, we have a million thanks for our lawyers,” he told the media.

In September, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a protection transfer arrangement with the US to take refugees from Costa Rican camps as part of Australia’s annual humanitarian intake.

Currently, US officials are also assessing refugees held in Australia’s offshore detention centres as part of the agreement to resettle up to 1,200 people. Australia refuses to resettle any asylum seeker who arrived by boat after 19 July 2013.

The agreement between the Australian government and Obama has been controversial and was brought up in discussions between Mr Turnbull and US President Donald Trump,

An unsuccessful legal challenge was launched to determine if the lighthouse, anchored to a reef under 1.3m of water, seven nautical miles south of Sugarloaf Key, was US territory under the policy.

The Senate Estimates Committee has been told that, under the Costa Rica agreement, seven cases involving 30 people were going through regular screening processes for resettlement in Australia.

At the same time the department was also going through a tranche of Cuban refugee placements as part of Australia’s “periodical” assistance to the US.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist