Cayman gets refugee help

About two dozen immigration officers from Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will receive training next week in how to identify migrants who may qualify for refugee status under the United Nations convention.

The training will be directed by two representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office. Some immigration officers from Turks and Caicos are also expected to participate in the courses.

How the Immigration Department determines the status of refugees or asylum-seekers was one of the areas put under the microscope in a report issued earlier this year on the island’s Cuban migration problem.

‘The current approach to asylum in the Cayman Islands stacks the odds against identifying these persons, and whilst this does not break any individual article in the Refugee Convention, it does not sit well with the spirit of the convention,’ the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee report stated.

According to Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson, Cayman has not granted refugee status to anyone since 1994 when a group of 43 Cuban migrants were given asylum. Three men from Afghanistan were granted exceptional leave to stay by Mr. Manderson in 2006, but they were not given asylum even though that had been recommended by Complaints Commissioner John Epp.

According to the HRC report, Cubans arriving illegally on Cayman’s shores are advised in Spanish about repatriation policies, but not about provisions regarding political asylum.

Also, the report noted Cuban migrants were generally asked a series of closed questions, rather than being asked to explain their entire story. No legal representation is required at these interviews and no recordings of those conversations are kept.

Mr. Manderson has said Cubans arriving here by boat are generally economic migrants, not refugees. He said one group of 25 Cubans who arrived in Cayman last year appeared to have a strong case for asylum, but they absconded before their status could be determined.

UNHCR Deputy Regional Representative Thomas Albrecht said it’s a common problem for many countries, and Cayman’s location in the Western Caribbean puts it in prime position to receive people fleeing Cuba.

‘You may have a large number of individuals who travel for reasons that are not refugee related,’ Mr. Albrecht said. ‘But you can still have the appropriate safeguards to see if there is one individual or family (within that group) who may have an asylum claim.’

Mr. Manderson said he did not agree with some of the statements made in the HRC report, and noted that the UNHCR training was being provided as more of an update and refresher course for immigration staffers.

‘We have a number of new officers who have joined us recently, and we’ve asked (the UNHCR) to give us some training in how to determine refugee status,’ he said.

The training will include how interviews with migrants should be conducted and what factors must be taken into consideration before deciding whether someone is fleeing persecution or simply looking for a better economic opportunity.

There are also some new issues arising with asylum claims in which Mr. Manderson said his officers don’t have a lot of experience.

‘People have, for example, been claiming asylum because of their sexual orientation or their sexual preferences,’ he said. ‘Those are things that are new to us and we want to make sure that we are up to speed on what the position of the UNHCR is on cases like that.’

The HRC report suggested an independent board or adjudicator’s office be established to deal with asylum applications, but Mr. Manderson has opposed that.

‘I don’t think we need another committee to decide these issues,’ he said.

Cayman does have an immigration appeals tribunal, which is available to decide disputed applications for refugee status. The initial ruling on those cases is made by the Chief Immigration Officer.

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