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Cuban Refugees Crowding Tourist Island Chain With AM-Cuba-Nobody Wins, Bjt

September 8, 1994

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) _ You think the United States has a Cuban refugee problem. Try this British Caribbean possession, where Cuban refugees jumped to 2 percent of the population Thursday.

The 583 refugees here - 88 of whom arrived Thursday - have pushed a tent city past capacity and prompted the government Monday to announce it would deport Cuban economic migrants to their communist homeland.

The deportation threat enraged U.S.-based Cuban exiles but has had little effect on the refugee flow, the government’s spokeswoman conceded.

″Every day since last Thursday we’ve had Cubans. They’ve been coming in dribs and drabs, but they’re here,″ Patricia Ebanks told the AP after a government meeting on the crisis Thursday.

The three-island British territory, a tourist resort and offshore banking center, sits just 70 miles south of Cuba. Although most of the more than 30,000 Cuban boat people in the past month have fled northward toward the Florida Straits, the Caymans are registering their own upward spiral, Ebanks said.

Attempts by the Cayman Islands to get the United States to accept the refugees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or Panama have failed.

″We’re not in a position to offer that type of assistance at this time,″ State Department spokesman Michael McCurry said Wednesday in Washington.

Ebanks said refugee screening began Monday but repatriations would not begin for at least two weeks. British and U.N. officials who will assist in repatriations are to arrive next week, she said.

Two Cuban dissident groups, the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation and the Coordinating Committee on Human Rights, lambasted the repatriation plan.

″It would be disastrous,″ said Angel Padilla, a Coordinating Committee representative in Puerto Rico who left Cuba via the Cayman Islands in 1963.

Padilla said some boat people sold their possessions before leaving and would face an angry Castro government that could deprive them of rationed goods or send mobs against them.

Ebanks responded by saying the Caymans would apply international standards to determining which boat people are political or economic migrants, and would not return anyone if safety could not be guaranteed.

Ebanks laughed when asked if the U.S. Coast Guard might station a ship between Cuba and the Caymans to pick up Cayman-bound refugees.

″Fat chance,″ she answered. ″They’ve got their own problems.″

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