While the rest of the world debates the pros and cons of letting in refugees, migrant Cubans trapped within Costa Rican borders show their appreciation through community service.

Yesterday, December 11, a group of 27 Cuban migrants volunteered to help the community of Brasilito in Guanacaste. Their work included cleaning the beach, playground maintenance and serving at the Guanacaste Food Bank.

According to Mauricio Herrera, Costa Rican Minister of Communication:

[quote_center]“Many of the people who are in the shelters have expressed the necessity to occupy their time.”[/quote_center]

The small land of Costa Rica now has around 5,000 Cubans locked into its borders — many of whom only received 7-day transit visas upon entering. Most came with just enough supplies to make it through, and some are down to just the clothes on their back. Thankfully, Costa Rican towns by the border have taken Cuban travelers into shelters, despite having hardly any information about when the crisis may resolve.

Local organizations have also taken note, laying the groundwork for the community action initiative. Gisela Sánchez, Director of Corporate Relations at the Florida Ice and Farm Company (FIFCO) explains: “We have witnessed the difficult situation these people face and want to work with both them and the government so they can participate in projects that positively impact the surrounding communities.”

Minister Herrera continues in response:

[quote_box_center]”We thank FIFCO for their support, and we hope more companies will be motivated to participate to make the living situation more bearable for the more than 5,000 Cubans who are currently waiting for countries in the region to allow them to continue their passage to the U.S. As this happens, we support the communities that host them.”[/quote_box_center]

The small group that went out yesterday is expected to be the first of many who will be working with other local organizations to provide at least a temporary solution to a complicated situation.

What Caused the Cuban Migrant Crisis

The “Migrant Crisis” — as the media has come to refer the border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica which barricades as many as 5,000 Cubans from continuing their journey towards the U.S. — goes back to November when Nicaragua announced that it would not be allowing the migrants into their country. To Nicaragua’s defense, Guatemala has pledged to do the same, thus hypothetically leaving Nicaragua with the same dilemma that Costa Rica now faces should they choose to accept the migrants.

Back on the island, the Cuban foreign ministry points the blame towards the U.S.’s Cold War policies that supposedly encouraged illegal emmigration by granting Cuban nationals an easier residency process than immigrants from other countries under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.

Later on, the Clinton administration revised the Act to continue accepting Cuban migrants who arrived by land, but rejecting those who were intercepted at sea. The latter policy has come to be known as: “wet foot, dry foot,” and is part of the reason so many migrants are now passing through Central America on their way to the States.

“To live in Cuba is to fight in vain,” says Yusneidis Benitez, Cuban mother of two who was interviewed at the end of November by The Voice of Guanacaste. “You cannot fight for your dreams 100%. People do not understand because when they visit they see Cuba’s touristy side; that’s why they don’t understand us. I do not want to continue in silence, without freedom.”

Still Looking for Answers

Of course, as optimistic as community service may make the scene look, the Crisis is far from averted. According to ABC News, “Some 45,000 Cubans are expected to move through South and Central American countries to the U.S. border this year.”

President Luis Guillermo Solis has asked current Cuban migrants within Costa Rica to discourage future travelers from embarking for the time being. Nevertheless, he also assured the migrants’ safety on Wednesday when he promised that none will be returned to Cuba against their will.

“It has certainly been regrettable,” says the president, “that the government of Nicaragua, in a move that is still incomprehensible to me, has denied free transit through its territory. This attitude, in my opinion, harms the spirit of integration and fraternity of Central America.”

President Solis is scheduled to make an official appearance in Cuba tomorrow, December 13 to discuss the situation with President Raul Castro.