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Published: Monday February 3, 2014 MYT 10:25:03 AM
Updated: Monday February 3, 2014 MYT 10:25:56 AM

Cuban boat people land in Cayman, headed for Honduras

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (Reuters) - A 30-foot (9 meter) sailboat with about 30 Cuban refugees aboard docked in the Cayman Islands on Sunday and passengers said they were hoping to reach Honduras.

The passengers told Reuters they were from Manzanillo in the southwestern province of Granma.

Ranging in age from teenagers to retirees, said they decided to leave the island because of economic conditions in Cuba, and complained that recent private sector reforms had not been as broadly implemented in the eastern end of the island, far from the capital, Havana.

They were provided with supplies after landing in East End, on the island of Grand Cayman, and continued on their journey.

Under an agreement between Cuba and the Cayman Islands signed more than a decade ago, Cuban migrant boats are allowed to pass through Cayman waters as long as they do not seek any assistance.

Cayman and Cuban officials are due to meet soon to negotiate new terms of the 1999 migration agreement.

Cayman officials said last year that a growing number of Cuban migrant boats are being spotted in the their territorial waters, apparently in response to possible changes in U.S. immigration laws migrants fear could make it harder for them to enter the United States.

Using makeshift boats or speed boats operated by smugglers, Cubans attempting to flee the communist-run island for the United States have long traveled through the waters of the Cayman Islands, a British territory located less than 100 miles south of Cuba.

The route offers favorable winds and sea currents for Cuban migrants trying to reach Honduras, from where they make the long journey overland to reach the U.S. border with Mexico.

The Cayman government does not keep official statistics on Cuban boats traveling through its waters.

Cayman authorities said the number is lower than the spike experienced in the mid-1990s, when tens of thousands of Cubans fled toward Florida by boat and hundreds of refugees flowed into the Caymans.

(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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