20 October 2020
The Cuban government responded swiftly to the COVID-19 crisis, implementing several restrictions early on in the pandemic including a ban on tourist arrivals and a lockdown for vulnerable people. By August 2020, however, cases began to increase and by mid-October there were a total of 6,220 cases and 125 deaths related to the virus.
The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are currently used in Cuba as part of immigration enforcement procedures or obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.
In its submission to the Universal Periodic Review regarding Cuba in 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that “as a matter of practice, Cuban immigration authorities do not detain asylum seekers. When a non-citizen in detention contacts UNHCR to submit an application for the refugee status, UNHCR is granted access to the person, who is subsequently released.” UNHCR underscored the possibility that “people in need of international protection could be detained and deported without having the opportunity to seek international protection, as immigration authorities do not have mechanisms or regulations to identify asylum-seekers and they do not refer cases to UNHCR.” UNHCR recommended that the country: “(a) accede to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees; (c) establish official identification and referral mechanisms for persons in need of international protection, with the assistance of UNHCR; and (d) grant temporary residency status to mandate refugees recognised after arriving in the country with tourist visas, under the sub-classification of refugees set forth in the national legislation on migration.” The agency reports that in 2017 there were 343 refugees and 15 asylum seekers; in 2019, there were 233 refugees and 31 asylum-seekers.
As regards the country’s prisons, on 30 April, the government ordered the release of 6,579 prisoners as part of its pandemic response: 421 prisoners were released to their homes awaiting their trials and others were given conditional release. By 6 April, the prison authority had published a prevention plan for detainees, guards, and any other persons intervening in detention. The measures include a hygiene and disinfection protocol, access to medical care, and the creation of isolation quarters.
As of 19 October, there were no reports of COVID-19 cases within the country’s prisons. On the other hand, in February 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlighted in a report on the situation of human rights in Cuba the persistence of deplorable conditions of detention in the country’s prisons, including overcrowding, insufficiency of medicines, food and drinking water, inadequate hygiene and sanitation and poor medical assistance.
- Human Rights Council, “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba, 10-28 September 2018,” A/HRC/39/16, 11 July 2018, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/210/97/PDF/G1821097.pdf?OpenElement
- UNHCR, “Submission by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees For the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation Report, Universal Periodic Review: 3rd Cycle, 30th Session,” May 2018, https://www.refworld.org/docid/5b082c644.html
- Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos & Organización de los Estados Americanos, “Situación de los Derechos Humanos en Cuba,” 3 February 2020, https://www.refworld.org.es/docid/5f5aa53f4.html
- Y. Zamora, “Coronavirus Response: Why Cuba is Such an Interesting Case,” The Conversation, 15 April 2020, https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-response-why-cuba-is-such-an-interesting-case-135749
- Worldometer, “COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic,” 19 October 2020, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
- CiberCuba, “Cuba Pone en Libertad a 6579 Presos Como Medida por El Coronavirus,” 30 April 2020, https://www.cibercuba.com/noticias/2020-04-30-u1-e196568-s27061-cuba-pone-libertad-6579-presos-medida-coronavirus
- Prison Insider, “Amériques: Coronavirus, La Fièvre des Prisons: Cuba,” 18 March 2020, https://www.prison-insider.com/articles/ameriques-coronavirus-la-fievre-des-prisons
- UNHCR, “Refugee Data Finder,” accessed on 19 October 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/download/?url=6LWo
- A Street Vendor Wearing a Mask as a Precaution Against the Spread of Coronavirus, (Associated Press, "Cuba Closes Off Havana to Stamp Out Spread of Coronavirus," 1 September 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/cuba-closes-off-havana-stamp-spread-coronavirus-72753238)