Housing, feeding and processing illegal migrants in advance of them being sent back to their home countries cost the Cayman Islands more than $668,000 last year, according to recently revised budget figures from the Financial Secretary’s office.
That’s 10 times the amount the country budgeted for services for refugees in its 2006-2007 spending plan.
Cayman budgeted $61,629 for refugee services last year. In the current 2007-2008 budget, $63,478 has been set aside for that purpose.
Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson told the Legislative Assembly last week that 148 Cuban nationals arrived illegally on Cayman’s shores during the 2006 calendar year. He said many of those people arrived around mid-year and stayed much longer than normal.
One group of 30 migrants which was sent home in late summer had been housed in the Immigration Detention Centre for more than five months before they were repatriated. According to Cayman’s agreement with Cuba, that repatriation process is supposed to take 21 days.
‘The number of refugees that came into the island was more than what appeared to be the norm,’ Chief Secretary George McCarthy told the Legislative Assembly in response to questions by Opposition MLA Rolston Anglin about the spending increase.
‘It is very difficult to predict what that number will be,’ Mr. McCarthy said.
‘Obviously, with each passing year they need to take a cold hard look at what is the norm,’ Mr. Anglin said. ‘We would hope the $600,000 is not the norm, but it certainly doesn’t look like the $60,000 is the norm either.’
The unpredictability is at least in part due to the uncertainty of the migrants themselves. Often boats coming in from Cuba choose to continue on their journey rather than being taken in by Caymanian authorities and then sent back home. Sometimes only a few of the boat passengers agree to surrender themselves, while the others choose to go on.
A recent review of the Cuban migrant issue by the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee recommended that authorities should forcibly detain migrants spotted within 12 miles of Cayman’s shores if the vessels they are in don’t appear to be seaworthy.
Mr. Manderson has said, aside from legal concerns that would arise, detaining all migrants found in unseaworthy vessels would involve increased costs and more work for already burdened immigration officers.
‘It would obviously cause a great strain on us,’ Mr. Manderson said. (see Caymanian Compass, 26 June)
Cayman’s current policy on dealing with migrants who arrive here by sea forbids authorities from assisting those migrants by offering them food, water, gasoline, boat repairs or any other help. The migrants can either choose to continue their journey or land here and be taken into custody to await repatriation.
Members of the public are also advised not to assist migrants travelling by boat, but those advisories are routinely disregarded.