Cuban migrants stranded in Serbia after EU nations tighten borders

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(6 Feb 2018) Far from a balmy Caribbean ocean breeze and sandy beaches, a Cuban family is huddling together in a cramped room in a cold, wind-swept Serbian refugee centre.
The Amor family is part of an unlikely influx of Cuban migrants to the Balkans which begun in 2015, before neighbouring European Union countries sealed off their borders to the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing wars and poverty from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Now, the family of three is stuck in non-EU Serbia.
Michael Amor said life there was "quite hard," but that he, his wife Ingrid, and their 13-year old daughter Samira still hoped to reunite with relatives in Spain.
Amor explained that, in Cuba, his construction worker job earned him only 30 US dollars a month and that the family had to sell their small house and other belongings before starting the journey 18 months ago.
Official Serbian data say that 92 Cuban migrants were registered in Serbia in 2016.
That number grew to 170 in 2017, although the numbers are likely higher as many migrants refuse to register with authorities, fearing deportation.
Most Cuban migrants waiting in Serbia to enter EU territory say they had no choice but to make the trip after the US revoked Cubans' special migration status early last year.
Under the old rules, Cubans were allowed to stay in the country if they managed to reach the US territory.
As of 2013, the Cuban government lifted most travel restrictions on its citizens.
In the Serbian refugee cenrer just meters from the Croatian border, the Amor family shares the tiny room with a four-member Somali family, leaving very little space for privacy or comfort.
Amor said he has tried to seek asylum in EU-member Croatia, but that he was flatly rejected, and that he has no money to pay migrant smugglers to take them over the border illegally.
"I don't know what to do," he said.
Amor said everyone who has left the centre has done so illegally - even those with money.
"I don't have anything right now, we don't have anything. We hardly have enough to eat. I do not know what to do, we just hope," he said.
Lianet Cordoba, a dancer looking to leave Cuba, said her compatriots struggle to even leave the country in the first place, as they simply don't have enough money to travel.
However, the ability to travel overseas also depends on foreign governments' willingness to grant visas to Cubans, which the EU and other Western countries issue rarely.
As she waited in line for a visa in front of the Colombian embassy in Havana, Cordoba said that Cubans' attempts to leave were only a means to secure "a better life and to help their families" back home.

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