For the first time in a few years, the Cayman Islands Immigration Detention Centre is brimming full of Cuban migrants after two boatloads arrived here within the past two months.
Last weekend, a group of 17 Cuban migrants – 16 men and one woman – were taken into custody after their boat ran aground on the Brac. They were transferred to Grand Cayman on Wednesday.
The latest group joined 19 Cuban boat migrants who arrived in the Islands in October and are also being held in the detention centre, meaning a total of 36 migrants are now being housed there awaiting repatriation.
Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans said, based on the intelligence her department has gathered from arriving migrants, Cayman can expect to see a lot more makeshift Cuban vessels entering its waters.
“[The migrants] mention that because of the financial problems [in Cuba], there’s not as much patrolling along the coasts as there used to be,” Ms Evans said. “We think we’re going to experience a lot more boats.”
According to records compiled by the Miami Herald, US-based interdictions of illegal Cuban migrants doubled between 2010 and 2011. The situation was blamed largely on Cuba’s stalled economy.
Since the last large influx of Cuban migrants was sent home from the Immigration Detention Centre, the Immigration Department has rearranged the housing set up at the centre.
Ms Evans said seven mobile homes used to house residents whose homes were destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 have now been placed on the detention centre property.
Previously, migrants were kept in a single building lined with bunk beds which became hot if too many people were crammed into one area.
The overcrowding situation was blamed for a number of escapes from the detention centre during 2007 and 2008.
Generally, Cuban migrants are not thought to be dangerous, but Caymanian authorities have no way of checking the backgrounds of all who arrive.
According to Cayman’s memorandum of understanding with the Cuban government, migrants who land illegally in the Islands are repatriated to their homeland. Until they are sent home, Cayman’s Immigration Department is responsible for the undocumented migrants’ feeding and housing.
If a Cuban boat is found in Cayman Islands waters it is usually allowed to continue on its journey.
However, if the passengers run into trouble and have to come ashore they are taken into custody.
According to the sister of one of the migrants found on the Brac last Saturday, the boaters who came ashore were simply seeking to refuel their vessel before moving on. Ibaña Seguarado said her brother, Fernando, and the crew aboard the vessel came to shore with that understanding.
“Unfortunately, the police catch them,” Ms Seguarado said. “They didn’t want to return to Cuba. He wanted to run away from there.”
Ms Seguarado said her brother was simply seeking to better his life by moving away from Cuba, where he could not find a decent paying job to help his family.
The Immigration Department’s policy on Cuban migrants typically defines individuals in Mr. Seguarado’s case as “economic migrants” – not political asylum seekers. If the department is convinced that such men will not face torture or retribution upon returning home, they will usually allow them to be repatriated.
The department does allow asylum seekers to remain in Cayman under certain circumstances set out in United Nations human rights’ conventions.
Ms Seguarado said her brother will face more difficulty when he is returned home.
“They will watch him and punish him for any little thing he does wrong,” she said, speaking over the phone from Sweden.
The Caymanian Compass was unable by press time to contact any of the Cuban migrants being kept in the Immigration Detention Centre.