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Flight-hop hope for Cubans stranded in Costa Rica

Central American states and Mexico have agreed on a plan that will allow Cubans stranded in Costa Rica to travel on to the United States. Thousands were stuck when Cuban ally Nicaragua closed its borders.

Migration officials from several countries said in a joint statement on Wednesday that more planes and buses would be laid on after a pilot trip last week that was described as a "success."

That operation - involving some 180 migrants - followed a

preliminary agreement

reached in December.

Thousands of Cubans have headed to Central America in an effort to reach the US, amid fears that the thawing of relations between Washington and Havana will lead to the end of Cubans' privileged refugee status.

Some 7,800 were

stranded in Costa Rica

when Nicaragua - an ally of the Cuban government - closed its borders to them. Some 2,000 have also been stuck in Panama after Costa Rica

refused to accept more

in December.

Leapfrogging Cuba ally

The plan involves flying the migrants from Costa Rica to El Salvador - thus bypassing Nicaragua - from where the Cubans would be bussed to Mexico. From there whey would make their own way to the US, where Cubans who arrive by land have access to fast-track American residency.

Costa Rica's foreign ministry said the next phase of the operation - being overseen by the International Organization for Migration - would see two flights a day laid on for 14 weeks starting February 4.

Those Cuban migrants able to pay the $555 cost of the trip are to be given priority, along with those traveling in family groups. Authorities did not specify how many people would leave on each flight.

rc/bw (Reuters, AFP)

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