Hundreds of Cubans fleeing political repression seek refuge in Greece

By Joan Sanchez Ros

Athens, Dec 16 (EFE).- Although it was previously considered a sort of punishment, leaving Cuba nowadays is an objective that many residents of the Caribbean island hope for, Nancy tells Efe.

Like many other Cubans, Nancy arrived in Athens from Russia – which doesn’t require a visa for Cuban travelers – via the Balkan route.

Scores of Cubans with similar stories to Nancy’s are seeking shelter in a semi-basement in the Athens suburb of Ampelokipoi, including doctors Danay and Eduardo and their daughter.

Around 1,000 Cubans are currently living in Greece, waiting for the authorities to issue them visas for other countries.

“We have relatives in Spain, Italy and Germany who want to take care of us. We do not want to be a hindrance to the European Union. We want to work – most of us are professionals, we have many children, but soon we will be on the streets because we are running out of jobs,” says Danay.

The Cuban police’s crackdown on anti-government protests that broke out in July was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many to seek a new life away from home.

“We went out to the streets to protest peacefully and the police limited themselves to recording, but then at night they came to look for us at our houses,” explains Augustin, stressing that returning to Cuba is not an option.

Nancy lost her teaching position when she returned from a trip to Germany in 1996 and has been teaching English on her own ever since.

“The image that the government creates is not what really happens. Whoever has doubts should visit the island and live as the people live there. The reality is different: all the donations that arrive, the people do not receive them, they are sold off,” she explains.

Augustin recalls how in Cuba he had to work a whole day at his phone store in order to buy something as basic as a soft drink or a toothbrush.

Although many who make it to Europe don’t face the same stigma as migrants from the Middle East, without a work permit the Cubans are forced to take day jobs as laborers so that they don’t run out of savings, work that leaves them feeling “exploited”.

Most of them have started the process of applying for asylum, or are waiting for an appointment, but they know that it is a slow and complex procedure, which has led them to create a Facebook support group to share their experiences and provide support.

“Everyone who leaves is an entrepreneur or a professional and that is very sad, it is very sad … they leave due to political problems,” Carlos, another Cuban living in Athens, says.EFE


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