MARCH 15, 2016 4:47 PM

Last flight leaves in bridge to Mexico for Cuban migrants

The Associated Press
SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA The last direct flight carrying stranded Cuban migrants from Costa Rica has arrived in Mexico, ending an effort that transported 6,003 Cubans, including some from Panama, Mexico's Interior Department said Tuesday.

Nearly 8,000 Cuban migrants had been stuck in Costa Rica after Nicaragua began refusing passage to them in November. Others had been stuck in Panama, on a land route that saw Cubans flying to Ecuador and then making their way overland through Central America to reach the U.S. border. Ecuador began requiring visas for Cubans late last year, effectively blocking the route to most would-be migrants.

Costa Rica's Foreign Relations Ministry said the last flight Tuesday included 50 migrants who couldn't pay for the chartered flights to Mexico, and got tickets subsidized by international aid groups. Costa Rica had housed thousands of Cubans for months at 44 shelters.

The Central American country said it had sent a total of 4,817 Cubans to Mexico. Hundreds more came from Panama, where they had been stuck after Costa Rica stopped accepting the migrants in December.

Costa Rica had issued a total of 7,802 temporary transit visas for Cubans, which suggests that about 2,985 migrants didn't take advantage of the air bridge and made their way north alone or by hiring immigrant smugglers. It is still unclear what will happen to about 50 Cubans who entered Costa Rica illegally; they are fighting deportation.

During the effort to transport the Cubans out, many were flown to Mexican border cities on a total of 38 flights. Others traveled on buses, and then made their way to the U.S. border from southern Mexico.

Most of the Cubans have ultimately presented themselves at Mexican border crossings with the United States, where special policies for Cubans allow them to stay and enjoy other benefits.