Under an agreement, Panama will send nearly 4,000 Cubans migrants to Mexico, where they will can stay up 20 days for "humanitarian reasons" due to "extraordinary circumstances". The first group of 238 Cuban migrants arrived Monday in the border city of Juarez on two flights from Panama, Mexico´s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The migrants have been stranded in Central America after several countries closed their borders and stopped them from traveling north. In Panama, they stayed in camps and makeshift shelters. The country´s president made a humanitarian plea for hotels to help in March as some cities were overrun. In at least one town, the number of migrants outnumbered the local population.
Cuban immigration to the United States has spiked amid growing fears that U.S. immigration policies could be changing as relations between the two countries thaw.
Since the 1960s, U.S. law has allowed Cuban refugees who set foot in the United States to live and work in the country without facing the same hurdles immigrants from other countries encounter. But making it to the United States isn´t easy.
Those who are found at sea are returned to Cuba. And an increasing number of countries across Latin America are closing their borders to stop migration.
The flights from Panama is ´A temporary measure´
Mexico´s foreign ministry described the flights from Panama as a "temporary measure."
According to the local media, Cubans who want to take the flights must pay about $800 for their tickets, local media reported.
"At the same time, both countries agreed to put in motion a series of actions to prevent and disincentivize new flows," the foreign ministry said.
Officials haven´t detailed what steps they plan to take. But Panama announced Monday that it was temporarily closing its border with Colombia.
It was a difficult decision, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said, but a necessary move to stop what he called "the crossing of irregular migrants."
The deal with Mexico marks at least the third time this year when countries have arranged airlifts of Cuban migrants to allow them to reach the U.S. border.
A group of about 1,500 Cuban immigrants was flown from Panama to Mexico earlier this year, according to CNN affiliate TVN. And in January, a deal between five Central American countries and Mexico paved the way for flights that thousands of Cubans to Mexico.