A decision by the Cayman Islands Immigration Department this week which allowed 21 Cuban migrants to temporarily go free from the George Town detention centre has stirred up debate.
But Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said temporary admission to the island for the migrants is both humane and necessary.
‘They have never posed any threat to the community,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘It was basically our desire to comply with the spirit of the UN Convention and to treat people in a fair manner.
‘They obviously don’t want to be locked up.’
The move to allow the Cubans outside the holding facility comes on the heels of a Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee report which warned the government about lengthening detention times there.
Some of the migrants now being kept in detention have been in Cayman for five months. According to the island’s repatriation agreement with Cuba, the process of sending illegal migrants back home should take 21 days.
The HRC report expressed concern that keeping Cuban migrants in detention too long could potentially lead to human rights violations. Although at the time the review was written, the committee did not believe there had been any such violations.
‘It is…not permissible to simply blame any delay on the Cuban government, nor can the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding with Cuba)…operate as a justification for failing to comply with human rights obligations,’ the report stated (Caymanian Compass, 21 June).
Under the new policy, the migrants will be allowed outside the detention centre Monday through Friday between the hours of 9am and 6pm. Groups of 10 and 11 will leave the centre on alternate days and will be allowed to go where they wish without supervision.
‘We are going to be doing some monitoring of them, but we don’t have any reason to believe they require constant monitoring,’ Mr. Manderson said.
The temporary release is made under strict guidelines.
Each migrant is issued a permit which allows them to leave the George Town centre during the prescribed hours. They are required to return to the centre promptly at 6pm and cannot leave on weekends. They are not to bring back any prohibited articles.
Mr. Manderson said any migrants who try to escape or who break any of Cayman’s laws could face prosecution. Anyone who tries to hire them can also be prosecuted for violating Immigration Laws.
Only 21 of the 27 migrants now living at the detention centre are being allowed this temporary leave. The other six, who arrived in Cayman 10 July, do not qualify for the release.
‘Not at the moment, but…at some point they will also qualify,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘We’re still hopeful for a decision (on repatriation) from the Cuban government very soon.’
The temporary releases will continue for the time being until the current group of 21 migrants are sent back to Cuba. After that, Mr. Manderson said the policy will be re-evaluated.
The Chief Immigration Officer said there was no reason for the public to be overly concerned about what the migrants would do when they are out.
‘We don’t know that they’re not criminals, but we have been able to observe them for the last five months,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘If for one moment we thought that they were a threat to our community, we would not have let them out.’