Wednesday, August 4

Migrating from Cuba to Spain via the clandestine route of the Balkans: “I couldn’t hold out any more”


Alfonso says that he used to cry in his bed due to the impotence of feeling incapable of protesting against the Government and the difficulties in leaving Cuba. Visa restrictions delayed his plans to migrate to Spain with his partner, until the crisis linked to the pandemic pushed him not to wait any longer.

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A post on Facebook gave him a clue about an irregular route traveled by hundreds of compatriots to reach European soil through the Balkans. Within four days, the 30-year-old was riding a plane for the first time in his life. On his mobile he kept a dozen maps with directions to follow. His first destination would be Russia.

Moscow has become in recent years an irregular gateway to Europe for hundreds of Cubans, who take advantage of the facilities to travel to the Eurasian country, Cuba’s historic ally, with the aim of making the leap to the EU. Since Alfonso found out, after several calls and checks on the Internet, the young man planned a clandestine trip to Spain, which passed through Russia, Macedonia and pushed him to walk for hours alone through mountainous areas to cross the border with Greece , from where he intended to take a flight to a Spanish city. To achieve this, he assures that he paid 400 euros to a “guide” who limited himself to providing him with information on the way.

About 15 days ago, a week before the protests that still keep him on edge, Alfonso landed in Madrid.

In a bright apartment in the south of the region, on a large gray sofa, he spreads out the many papers that he conserves from his journey, financed thanks to the support of his uncle, who has lived in Miami for decades. On one side, he accumulates a 10-ruble ticket, the ticket for a flight to Barcelona and several photocopies of the hotel reservations required to enter certain countries as a tourist. In another folder, he keeps the documents of the trip that he never made, the one that tried to travel through the regular route, through the request for a visa to the Embassy of Spain whose resolution was delayed “too much” due to bureaucratic obstacles linked to the pandemic : “I couldn’t take it any longer in Cuba, I felt blocked by the repression and I had less and less work. When I found out that there was another way of escape, I didn’t think about it and soon after I had the ticket.”

The trip he was going to make from Cuba with his partner – who has a Spanish residence, since he lived in Madrid most of his life – never happened as they planned. While it took her only one flight to get to the Spanish capital from Havana, he began a journey that would push her to hide in the undergrowth, travel risky roads along the tracks of a freight train, pose as a Spanish reporter or pay a corrupt cops to reach their destination. He also had time to visit some of the capitals of the countries marked on the map of his clandestine route, pretending to be a tourist. It was the first time he had left his country in his 30 years of life.

The hardest stage

The most complicated stage was located in Macedonia, a country with greater immigration controls, due to the habitual transit of migrants through this point. This trip, he says, is usually traveled in small groups, but he decided to do it alone to avoid arousing suspicion. On his mobile he kept an address located in a town located next to the Greek border – which he prefers not to detail – that would lead him to a house that was clandestinely housing migrants of different nationalities. There he coincided, he says, with another family of Cuban migrants, as well as several Turks and Moroccans. About three in the morning, he started a long night walk.

“It was all mountains. You had to walk for about 10 hours or so. Sometimes I got out of position and it was maddening. There was a time when I barely had any water left, a sip of nothing, and, as I saw that it took longer than I thought , I did not know if I was lost or not. I had been walking for seven hours and could not see anything, I was alone, and could not go back … “, says Alfonso, while showing the gallery of his phone, loaded with images of the worst day of the trip, like those that show his steps on the tracks of a freight train located at the top of a bridge: “It was very dangerous. If you got lost and the train passed, there was not much escape.”

Meanwhile, his partner was sitting on the gray sofa where they already rest together, waiting with his mother on the phone. Through an application, they followed Alfonso’s footsteps live on the European map thanks to geolocation. “I was in suspense all night. There was a moment when he could not be located and he did not respond to our messages, we thought that the police or a traffic network had captured him. Until he finally responded, he was only without coverage,” says the woman.

Ecstatic, the Cuban was stopped by Greek policemen, who identified that he was a migrant, but allowed him to continue his journey when he explained, with great difficulty, that his intention was to request asylum.

After a few days of rest, he managed to take the necessary flights until landing in Spain. “I am aware that I have been very lucky … I know many Cubans who are returned and take a long time to reach Spain or never do,” says the Cuban. In 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began to warn of the increase in Cuban citizens on the migration route from the Balkans, although it traveled the reverse of the route with the greatest flow. So at least 168 citizens from Cuba remained stranded in detention centers in Serbia, faced with difficulties in successfully crossing their border to continue on their way to a community country.

In Spain, Cubans do not enjoy a special protection regime, as is the case in the United States. In case of not requesting protection, Alfonso will remain in an irregular situation in the country until he can regularize his situation. Deportation is rarely very common, but it is not impossible. In 2020, only three of its nationals were returned to Cuba. The latest figures broken down by nationality indicate that in 2019, 1,373 Cubans requested asylum in Spain.

Pending protests in Cuba

Despite the fear suffered during his long solo walks in the middle of the night and the many risks that migrants who travel the Balkan route usually face, Alfonso managed to reach Spain in the planned time, just over ten days ago. A week after his arrival, he was looking at the Facebook profiles of his acquaintances when he realized that something historical was happening in his country: “I started crying. I called my family and people are throwing themselves in the streets. With pain inside, for not being there at this moment, after so much wishing that the people would wake up united and very worried, not knowing what to do.

The economic crisis linked to the pandemic, the social mobilization of artists and intellectuals and the impact of the protests on social networks are some of the factors that have marked the demonstrations that emerged on the island last Sunday.

After achieving his goal of reaching Spain, Alfonso for the first few days after the protests could not help cursing himself for being here and not there. “When I thought I was going to be happy, the news came to me. I am happy because the town woke up, but I feel bad because I could not do it and I am worried that nothing will happen to my family,” explains Alfonso, who assures that He wanted to leave the country because of the “lack of freedom” and the lack of possibilities to get ahead.

The young man began studying medicine in Havana, but had to drop out of university to find an unofficial job in order to help his family. “I left the race because I didn’t even have a pair of shoes to wear, my mom didn’t have enough to support us. I went to class without breakfast, with nothing in my stomach. When you see that there isn’t enough food, that your family is hungry, you you don’t think and work on whatever it is. Necessity forces you. You don’t let your mother go hungry… “.

Then he began to dedicate himself to the repair of electrical appliances and, for many of his jobs, he depended on parts purchased from Cubans who traveled abroad on a regular basis. Although he had already decided to migrate years ago, the pandemic was the final blow for which he decided to embark on his journey as soon as possible.

“People did not travel so I could no longer buy many pieces. I could hardly work, I was throwing away what I had saved. I still had orders, but only maintenance. From having two or three a day, I went to a job at the week “, details the Cuban. Among the reasons for migrating, Alfonso describes a constant feeling of “powerlessness” in the face of the Cuban government, an anger blocked by “not being able to protest.” “I have a lot of hatred and resentment against the rulers. Sometimes I wanted to scream, make videos criticizing the situation in the country, the crisis that all Cubans are experiencing, but that, being one, meant ceasing to be able to dedicate yourself to what you do, let them chase you … And I had to bring my mother and daughter forward, I couldn’t do anything else.

While talking about the latest protests in Cuba, Alfonso breaks down in tears. He is surprised at how lucky he has been during his migratory trip and recalls that impulse he had to leave his country as soon as possible and not wait for the resolution of the visa request. “I had so much anger inside against the government, I felt so much desire to scream before I left, that if I had been there maybe I would be one of the people arrested … I think that everything happened because it had to happen. But, even though I’m far away, I still feel that helplessness that made me cry at night. It hurts me to see what happens in my country. ”



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