Hundreds of Cuban migrants gathered in the airport on the Greek island of Zakynthos on Thursday, hoping to fly to Italy to escape the dire economic circumstances in their home country.
The approximately 210 Cuban migrants left their home country for Russia, where they boarded buses to Serbia, and then to Greece. Their goal was to land in Italy and request asylum there.
The migrants stated that in the past, Cubans looking to go to Italy traveled through the airport in Zakynthos, where they claimed that checks were not strict. It is for this reason that the group of migrants attempted to fly through that specific airport.
91 Cuban migrants arrested by police in Greece
Despite the rumors of lax airport staff, airport employees indeed noticed that none of the nearly 100 Cuban migrants who had booked an afternoon flight from Zakynthos to Milan’s Bergamo airport had a visa.
They then alerted police to the presence of the Cuban migrants. Greek police attempted to gather the migrants onto buses to take them to hotels where they could stay until their cases were handled.
In a state of confusion, many of the migrants refused to go or did not understand the police officer’s commands, leading to tension in the airport, as recorded in a video published on social media.
In the video, Greek police are shown pulling and dragging people by their legs.
Allegedly, pregnant women and children were amongst the migrants, who feared that they would not be able to travel to Italy, refusing to show the police their papers.
In total, 91 arrests of Cuban migrants were made on Thursday. The rest of the group of migrants were taken by bus to a hotel on the island.
Protests erupted in Cuba over the summer
Protests over economic conditions and safety during the pandemic roiled the Communist-ruled island in July.
Groups of young people marched in protest in the capital city of Havana, disrupting traffic for several hours until police moved in.
The protesters, chanting the slogans “Freedom,” “Enough” and “Unite,” were allowed to demonstrate for some time while police monitored their actions from behind. At one point, a motorcyclist even pulled out a US flag, but it was taken from him by others right away.
One middle-aged protester told the Associated Press “We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. That’s why I’m here.” The man refused to identify himself, he said, for fear of arrest.
Cuba was experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades, coupled with a new spike in coronavirus cases, as it suffered the consequences of stronger US sanctions imposed during the Trump administration along with the crippling effects of a downturn in tourism due to the pandemic.
The New York Times quoted Cuban activist Carolina Barrero as saying “It is the most massive popular demonstration to protest the government that we have experienced in Cuba since ’59.”
These most recent protests in the Caribbean nation were set off by a desperate economic crisis fueled by several factors which have combined to seemingly take Cuba to a tipping point.
The tourism dollars normally spent by Europeans and others on the island are no longer flowing in due to the pandemic. The stricter economic sanctions imposed during the previous American administration have also caused reverberations, adding to the misery as many are also out of work because so many restaurants and hotels are still shuttered due to the pandemic.