An international conference being held in Cayman this week seeks to address how Caribbean countries deal with the problems of illegal migration while continuing to allow legal migrant workers into their countries.
The issue is one which touches Cayman almost on a daily basis.
Depending on the population estimates used, foreign residents likely make up more than half of those now living in the Cayman Islands. A recent review by the Caymanian Compass found estimates of close to 30,000 foreigners from more than 130 countries living here.
It’s believed the entire population of the three islands is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 55,000 people.
‘There are simply not enough Caymanians to meet workforce needs,’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts told attendees of the International Organization on Migration/United Nations High Commission for Refugees seminar Monday. ‘We are reliant on workers from overseas to meet the shortfall.’
Governor Stuart Jack agreed; but he said that need has to be balanced with the proper precautions.
‘We must also protect ourselves,’ Mr. Jack said. ‘We are aware that our location in the Caribbean is attractive to illegal immigrants and those involved in human trafficking and smuggling.’
Richard Scott with the International Organization for Migration, a Washington DC-based group, said Cayman faces a number of different problems with migration, which must be looked at from a holistic perspective.
‘With a relatively small population base — how do you get, in a controlled fashion, the workers that you need to support the island’s economy? And how do you then mange that process in integrating the people who choose and are permitted to stay longer?’ Mr. Scott said.
The four day conference; ‘Mixed migratory flows in the Caribbean,’ is being held through Thursday at the Westin Casuarina Resort. More than 100 people from the Caribbean region, as well as Central, South and North America were expected to attend.
The conference is open to invited participants. Journalists were only allowed to attend the opening and closing remarks.
The first day’s theme focused on global and regional trends in migration.
On Tuesday, delegates discussed human trafficking issues, which have recently become a concern in Cayman.
‘Over the past two years, there has even been evidence of organised human smuggling rings attempting to move their victims through our islands,’ Mr. Tibbetts said during the conference’s opening address. Cayman became the first British Overseas Territory to outlaw human trafficking earlier this year, according to Governor Jack.
Today’s conference agenda focuses on contingency planning for mass migration and refugee emergencies.
Mr. Tibbetts said Cayman has spent some $1.6 million in the past two years providing food and shelter for migrants, mainly Cubans, who have come here illegally. The costs are mostly associated with keeping those migrants in the Immigration Detention Centre while they are awaiting repatriation.
Cayman has not granted asylum to any migrants in more than a decade.
The event will finish up Thursday with a session on strengthening laws and policies which deal with migration and refugee protection.