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Cuban Refugees Arrive in Hungary Amid Controversy


Dozens of Cuban refugees who were detained by the United States after fleeing their country, have arrived in Hungary where they will be granted political asylum. Stefan Bos reports from Budapest that the refugees' arrival has led to a diplomatic dispute between Hungary and Cuba.

Hungarian officials have confirmed that 28 Cuban refugees, mostly men with a few women and children, landed in Budapest and will receive political asylum.

They are part of a group of 44 Cubans captured at sea by the United States Coast Guard in recent years while trying to reach the United States.

They were detained at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Cuban dissidents have said some of the refugees were activists who were persecuted for opposing the Communist government of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The spokesman of Hungary's ministry of foreign affairs, Lajos Szelestey, tells VOA that the Cubans arrived in Hungary under an agreement with Washington.

"All in all, 28 people arrived in Hungary because the Hungarian government accepted the request of the U.S. administration," he said. "And the decision was approved by all five parliamentary parties."

Cuba has condemned that decision, calling Hungary a "lackey" of the U.S.

In a statement, Cuba's foreign ministry said the government of Hungary has acted, in Cuba's words, "as an accomplice of the American empire and is waiting for a reward." The Cuban statement said Havana resists "the empire and despises the lackey."

Calls to the Cuban embassy in Budapest went unanswered.

Hungarian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Szelestey however said only humanitarian considerations were behind Hungary's decision to accept the refugees.

"The Hungarian side explained that Hungary was and would be prepared to take any refugees on the basis of humanity," he said. "They fled Cuba and were captured on the sea and taken to Guantanamo, as far as I know nearly or more than three years ago."

Of the refugees, 17 are reported to have held a three-week hunger strike in August to protest alleged poor conditions at Guantanamo and the unwillingness of U.S. authorities to grant them asylum.

One aid worker believes it will take time for the Cubans to adjust to Hungarian society. The office manager of the Christian organization Hungarian Baptist Aid, David Gal, explained to VOA that his group will help the refugees find housing and jobs and adapt to Hungarian culture.

Gal said the Cubans will receive counseling in a temporary shelter near Budapest.

"They will be helped by social workers and also counselors because these people obviously went through some shock," he said. "So we have recruited some Spanish-speaking counselors and social workers who will be with them to help them in the whole situation of moving, arriving in a new country and so forth. They arrived early in the morning and they were extremely tired so they went to bed to immediately. There was very little conversation at this point. But we hope to find out very much about them in the coming days."

Hungarian officials have released few details about the refugees, citing security concerns.

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