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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Seeks UN Role in Cuban Havens

GENEVA -- The United Nations refugee agency said Friday that Washington had asked it to consider playing a role in the "safe haven" process of relocating Cuban refugees.

"We are in preliminary consultations with America after a request from them for our possible involvement in the safe haven process," Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commission for Refugees, told a news briefing.

"We believe there may be some legitimate asylum-seekers within the population leaving, but how many we don't know."

The humanitarian agency also said it had not seen any evidence of Cuban asylum-seekers being sent back to their homeland against their will.

Such forced return would violate the 1951 UN convention on refugees, intended to protect people genuinely fearing persecution if sent home. The agency monitors compliance with the pact, which has 123 signatories, including the United States. Cuba is not a signatory.

The agency said it was concerned Cuban asylum-seekers should not be detained unnecessarily. They should be held for only a minimal amount of time, just long enough for the legitimacy of a claim to be properly assessed.

Typically, if the agency signs a memo of understanding with a country on safe havens, its delegates attend and monitor the screening and interviewing of refugees to ensure it is being carried out in adherence with international legal principles. Such safe haven agreements are bilateral.

An agency delegate is accompanying U.S. officials on a trip to possible countries of safe haven including Surinam and Paraguay.

Washington and Havana are locked in a standoff over terms for ending the exodus of Cuban exiles, with the United States willing to discuss immigration but not its trade embargo against the island. Some 16,335 Cubans were intercepted off Florida during August, including 11,810 picked up this week. This tops the 9,513 Cuban migrants rescued for the decade between 1983 and 1993.