Greece has become a European port of call for refugees from Africa and Asia.
But in recent months, authorities have been surprised to find large numbers of Cubans seeking shelter far from home.
The issue came to light on October 28 when some 130 Cubans tried to fly from the island of Zakynthos, in the Ionian Sea, to Milan, in northern Italy.
“It was accidental that so many Cubans met in the same place,” said Pedro, 28, who was among them. “Usually we try to use lots of different airports.”
“When police saw one Cuban passport after another, they put us all in a separate room.”
A video clip posted by a local news outlet showed Cubans in an uproar when police tried to bus them to the local precinct. They were given written orders to leave Greece before being released.
‘We sold everything’
Unlike the mostly Middle Eastern and African asylum seekers who set out from Turkish shores in rubber dinghies to reach the east Aegean islands, Cubans do not appear to be shepherded by smugglers.
Pedro and his girlfriend, Laura, flew from Havana to Moscow, where travel is visa-free for Cubans. From there they flew to Belgrade, also visa-free, and took buses and taxis through Serbia and North Macedonia to the Greek border.
“We didn’t have a plan,” said Laura, 27, who co-owned a restaurant with Pedro in Havana. “We just sold everything, bought tickets and left for Russia.”
The arrivals are now in their hundreds.
Juan, a Cuban asylum seeker enlisting his compatriots on an asylum petition, has gathered 400 signatures. He says at least 200 more refused to sign, afraid of giving away their identities.
The list reveals that the arrivals are mostly students and professionals below 50, many with children.
“There are lawyers, doctors, civil engineers – we’re not brigands,” said Juan. “We wanted the country that will embrace us to see that we can offer thing to society, we’re not here to extract wealth and go home, but to be part of society and contribute to it.”