PANAMA CITY (AP) — Panama's government is granting asylum on humanitarian grounds for 19 Cuban migrants who are being detained in the Bahamas, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
Its statement said President Ricardo Martinelli made the decision to accept the request for asylum, adding that Panama has historically been a country that offers asylum for humanitarian reasons.
The ministry didn't identify the Cubans involved or say when they might come to Panama.
It also didn't give any details on the conditions of the asylum seekers, but alluded to criticism by rights groups over the treatment of Cubans detained in the Bahamas after being stopped on suspicion of trying to immigrate illegally to the United States.
"The complaints from international human rights groups, which have alerted about the treatment received by Cuban citizens detained in the Bahamas, has been one of the considerations in this decision of the government," the Foreign Ministry said.
Activists in Florida allege that Cuban detainees in the Bahamas have been beaten by guards, denied adequate food, water and medical care, and deprived of the ability to file asylum claims.
Both the U.S. government and United Nations have criticized conditions in the Bahamas' detention center for migrants, who mostly come from Cuba and Haiti. The sparsely populated island chain is frequently used as a transit zone by people trying to reach the nearby United States and its security force regularly detains boatloads of migrants and deports most back to their homelands.
Bahamian officials deny any abuse and are angered over calls in Florida for a tourism boycott.
"Bahamians are quite fed up with this attack on our country, which in our view is unfair," Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell said this past week. "We spend $1 billion in the Florida economy every year. What's the point in trying to damage our economy?"