Cayman Islands Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said last week that an agreement which allows for the repatriation of Cuban migrants to their home country does not dictate Cayman’s immigration policies.
However, he said delays in repatriation have caused substantial problems, and he said there’s not much Cayman can do about it.
‘Right now, we’re at their mercy,’ Mr. Manderson said in a Thursday press briefing.
According to immigration officials, 74 Cuban migrants have arrived in the Cayman Islands since 1 January. Fifteen have chosen to continue on with their journey, and another nine have been repatriated.
Fifty are still in the Immigration Detention Centre awaiting repatriation.
Some of those migrants have been here for as long as 60 days, even though the Memorandum of Understanding – MOU – with Cuba states repatriation should occur within 21 days.
Mr. Manderson said in previous years the problem has been worse. In 2004, he estimated 400 Cubans were temporarily being kept in Cayman. A decade earlier in 1994 there were more than 1,000.
‘How do we end this?’ Mr. Manderson asked rhetorically. ‘Through diplomatic means? Does it mean us going to Cuba and negotiating this MOU better, or asking for it to be just simply abided by? That’s something we’re considering.’
Mr. Manderson said another diplomatic route would involve the British Embassy meeting with Cuban officials, but he said Cayman doesn’t control that option.
‘We don’t have a direct contact from immigration to immigration. Basically, we can only deal from diplomat to diplomat,’ he said.
As repatriation delays grew longer, Cayman saw three escapes from its Immigration Detention Centre within 10 days of each other in April. The final incident turned into a public protest with about 30 Cubans marching through the streets of George Town.
Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Dennis Brady said some measures to step up security at the centre have been taken, and others are being considered. He declined to give specifics.
‘We cannot say that it will never happen again, but we have taken steps to prevent future escapes,’ Mr. Brady said.
Mr. Brady said there’s no evidence the 30 or so migrants who escaped the detention centre on 14 April were aided in their initial escape.
‘But we do have confidential sources which indicate that once they’re out, they do get assistance,’ Mr. Brady said.
Immigration officials said rendering that assistance to illegal immigrants can bring fines and prison sentences to those who are convicted of such offences.
Mr. Manderson has repeatedly said he does not support the general public even giving food and water to Cubans who show up on Cayman’s shores because he believes it will encourage illegal immigration.
‘How would we feel if 600 Haitians landed in Jamaica and they said ‘here’s some food, water and a boat…try Cayman?’ We would be a bit upset about that.’