December 10, 2006
Hot item among Palestinians: tourist visa to Cuba
BY SARAH EL DEEB
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Travel agents report a brisk demand for
visas to Cuba, one of the few places that welcomes Palestinians.
Driven by fear of civil war and increasingly bleak economic
prospects, Palestinians are fleeing their violence-wracked lands
in growing numbers. Many are skilled and educated, and are
leaving behind an increasingly impoverished and fundamentalist
Many countries make it difficult for the stateless Palestinians
to obtain even tourist visas, because they often overstay them.
Two popular destinations for Gazans are Canada, which still
offers legal immigration, and Cuba, which imposes few
restrictions on Palestinian travelers.
Those with tourist visas to Cuba often don't plan to go there.
Instead, they get off in transit at a European airport, rip up
their Palestinian travel document and seek asylum.
Travel agencies in Gaza arrange for fictitious invitations, hotel
bookings and Cuban visas for their clients, a Palestinian
security official said. The cost of the service has gone up from
$200 to $1,500 because of the high demand and increasing risk,
the official said.
Palestinian, Egyptian and European officials have begun to
tighten restrictions in an attempt to stem the flow. Travel agent
Mohammed Mouin said 65 of his clients with Cuban visas were sent
back from Egypt, but that many more are trying. "Traveling to
Cuba has become a fad," he said.
The emigration is hurting Palestinian prospects for statehood,
says pollster Nader Said. ''What Israel couldn't do by force,''
he said, ''we were able to do with internal dispute, lack of
leadership, accompanied by economic pressure and the siege on Gaza.''
About 10,000 Palestinians emigrated between June and October and
another 45,000 have made preparations to leave, said Ahmed Suboh,
a Palestinian Foreign Ministry official, citing reports from
Palestinian missions abroad.
Emigration from Gaza, in particular, has picked up. The World
Bank estimates 70 percent of Gaza's 1.4 million people live in
poverty, defined as living on less than $2.30 a day.
Although Palestinian society tends to stigmatize its emigrants as
deserters, a recent poll indicated the number of young
Palestinians willing to leave if given a chance has jumped from
25 percent to 44 percent over two years.
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