Cuban athletes seek asylum, new life in Chile after Panamerican Games

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - On a rare rainy spring day in Santiago, a group of Cuban athletes toured a gym, one of their first public activities since they represented their country at the Panamerican Games - and then asked to stay in Chile.

"We already feel calmer; God willing we get everything we're hoping for," said Yunia Milanes, one of six field hockey players who has sought asylum in Chile.

"We thank the people and the mayors and lawyers, everyone. We want to be another member of 'Las Diablas' (Chile's field hockey team) and be able to represent Chile."

A seventh athlete has joined the six women in requesting asylum since the Games ended on Sunday. They join three other Cuban athletes who fled during a previous athletic competition in Chile in May.

The lawyer who advises the athletes, Mijail Bonito, said that the ten athletes have received temporary residence documents while their cases are resolved.

The Cuban embassy in Chile did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Gabriel Boric's government said earlier this week that immigration authorities had received a request for asylum after the Games closed on Sunday. A government spokesperson confirmed to Reuters on Friday that it has received 10 refugee requests from Cuban athletes so far.

The government said around 20 athletes from the Cuban delegation have not returned to the communist-run island, which has been suffering a deepening economic crisis that has sparked higher levels than usual of emigration.

Lazaro Tolon, one of the athletes who stayed behind in May, said the decision had been "super difficult, super complex," but that the "main reason we made this decision is to feel free."

(Reporting by Natalia Ramos and Rodrigo Gutiérrez, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)