In a surprise move Wednesday, a group of 10 Cuban migrants were let out of the Immigration Detention Centre in George Town for a day of recreation.
The release of the migrants, some of whom had been at the centre since early March awaiting repatriation, was authorised by Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson.
According to Assistant Chief Immigration Officer Jeannie Lewis, the migrants were allowed to go free between the hours of 9am and 6pm. They were allowed to come back to the detention centre for lunch, and were all required to return at six in the evening.
Caymanian Compass printing deadlines for this story were set before 6pm, so it was impossible to confirm whether all migrants had returned to detention by that time.
Of the 27 migrants currently being kept at the centre, 21 have made an exceptionally long stay. One man said he had been there for five months. According to Cayman’s repatriation agreement with Cuba, known as the Memorandum of Understanding, migrants are supposed to be sent back home within 21 days after they are determined to be Cuban citizens.
Ms Lewis said the Cuban migrants will be released on a staggered basis. Ten were let out Wednesday; another group of 11 was scheduled to be released today; the same group of 10 would again be let out on Friday. She said the detainees would not be released on the weekends.
Six newly-arrived Cuban migrants who were taken into custody by immigration officers will not be allowed to go on the recreational trips, Ms Lewis said. She said special arrangements were being made for the migrants who had been here for a while.
‘It’s just because they’ve been housed here so long,’ Ms Lewis said. ‘It’s not something we would do on a regular basis.’
The 10 migrants were given permits allowing them to be abroad for the day. The documents do not allow them to work or even stay outside the centre after 6pm. Ms Lewis said anyone attempting to employ them would be breaking Cayman Islands Immigration Law.
The eight men and two women who were seen leaving the centre by Compass reporters Wednesday morning said they planned to wander around town and take it easy. One man said he wanted to lie on the beach. A woman in the group said she wanted to look around George Town stores.
‘I’ve been in that (detention centre) place for five months,’ said Raul Esquizel, a Cuban migrant. ‘I need some fresh air.’
The Cubans being released said they had no money and only two had bottles of water. Ms Lewis said the group would not be provided with transportation, and would essentially be left alone until it was time for them to return.
Some members of the group were part of the protest march which occurred in George Town in April. During that incident, a group of 30 migrants got out of the detention centre and walked around George Town carrying a banner that indicated they did not wish to be sent back home.
Ms Lewis said the Cubans were not believed to be a threat to anyone.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service was notified about the migrants’ pending release days before it occurred. A spokesperson said the police had no problem with the circumstances of the temporary release.