The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission is considering a review of the country’s memorandum of understanding with the Cuban government over how boat migrants who venture into local waters are dealt with.
Commission members indicated in December that they would look at internal immigration policies, as well as a memorandum of understanding between Cayman and Cuba “in the context of human rights compliance”.
Cayman just saw off the remainder of the Cuban nationals who had been kept in the Immigration Detention Centre in George Town following their arrival here in the fall of 2011. However, of the original 18 members of the group, only 16 went home because two escapees from the centre have not been located.
The two men, Fernando Figueredo and Rafael Hidalgo fled the low-security centre on 21 January and are believed to be receiving assistance from members of the Cayman community.
The 16 Cubans repatriated last Tuesday were the second large group recently sent home from Cayman, in an apparent resurgence of migrant activity from the impoverished communist nation. Between 2008 and 2010, Cayman saw little migrant activity after years of consistent sightings of boat migrants off local coasts. The memorandum of understanding, signed on 15 April, 1999, between the Cayman Islands and Cuba sets out how the Islands handle repatriation of Cuban citizens.
Also, Cabinet passed regulations in January 2005 setting out guidelines on how migrants should be received.
Those guidelines state: “Cuban migrants must be advised by immigration officers that no assistance will be rendered, and that permission to land will not be granted for the purpose of repairing their vessels or receiving other assistance.” The rules also state Cubans should generally be repatriated within 21 days of their illegal landing in the Islands. However, in practice that often does not occur, particularly if the group is large. The latest group that was repatriated last week landed on Cayman Brac in mid-November.
Many of them don’t wish to return to Cuba and actually told immigration officials, according to a government report, that they would try to leave their country again.
”I’m happy to be going back to see my family, but I will get on the next boat leaving Cuba, but not stopping in Cayman Islands,” one man told officials.
Family members of the group, who have contacted the Caymanian Compass from as far away as Sweden to find out their status, fear the men face retaliation when they return to Cuban shores.
Ibaña Seguarado, whose brother was among the migrants that landed on Cayman Brac last year, said she was concerned for his safety.
“They will watch him and punish him for any little thing he does wrong,” she said.
Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Garfield “Gary” Wong has said the Cayman Islands government would not send migrants from any country back to a situation where they would face torture, as it would be against international human rights conventions. He said there is no evidence this is occurring with the Cuban boat migrants.
“Carrying out the [repatriation] process in a safe and effective manner was our main objective, and this was achieved,” Mr. Wong said of last week’s effort.
Cayman generally does not consider most of the Cubans who inadvertently land here as refugees, as the term is defined under international conventions. The travellers, mostly men, are usually looking to get into Honduras and then head up through Central America to the United States to find work.