After a few quiet years on the waters surrounding the Cayman Islands, it appears the territory is returning to problems with a significant number of Cuban boat migrants coming to these shores seeking asylum or safe passage to Central America.
So far this year there have been three escapes involving migrants who have landed in the three-island chain and been taken into custody in detention awaiting repatriation. Four of the men who fled the centre were never found.
In addition, the Cayman Islands government budgeted to spend some $250,000 during the last fiscal year to support and house Cuban migrants who, largely inadvertently, land on local shores. Not included in those costs are law enforcement staff and time spent dealing with illegal landings.
Most recently, a group 25 Cuban migrants had to return to Cayman last week after their boat failed trying to reach the Swan Islands off Honduras. A cruise ship picked up the group and returned them to Grand Cayman so they could seek medical attention for three Cubans on board the boat.
The vessel was set adrift and it was left to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Marine Unit to find it. The 22 men and three women in the group are now housed at the detention centre awaiting processing. They are likely to be sent back to Cuba unless they are granted asylum, which is rare in these types of economic migration cases.
In late September, authorities on Grand Cayman were searching for two Cuban men who escaped from the detention centre on Fairbanks Road in George Town.
There was no report of the men, Pedro Luis Diaz Cruz and Carlos Ramon Maria Gomez, ever being found.
The government detention centre is a low-security holding facility and, generally, the Cuban migrants kept there are not thought to be dangerous. On one occasion in 2007, the facility agreed to let a group of migrants leave custody there for the day, as long as they returned to the centre before dark.
However, illegally landing in Cayman is a crime and the Immigration Department usually deals with such offenders through a repatriation agreement called a Memorandum of Understanding signed with Cuba more than a decade ago.
In May, four men fled the immigration detention centre while they were awaiting repatriation to Cuba after arriving in the Cayman Islands as part of a group of 28 people who illegally landed on the Sister Island of Cayman Brac the previous month.
All were later apprehended and returned to custody.
Two men who left the facility in January of this year, Rafael Hidalgo Figueredo and Fernando Figueredo Corrales, were also not recovered.
Since that escape, enhanced security measures have been introduced at the facility, immigration officials said. Those did not prevent the May and September escape incidents.
The Cayman Islands expected to spend nearly $250,000 between July 2011 and June 2012 on “services for refugees” during the previous government budget; mostly to support and house Cuban boat migrants who end up landing illegally on the territory’s shores.
The government initially budgeted about $28,000 for those services.
Since the end of 2008, Cayman has not seen many migrants floating in its waters on makeshift craft looking to get from here to Central America and eventually up through Mexico into the United States.
However, last year, as the Cuban economy took a downturn, immigration officials warned of an influx in Cuban migrants heading our way. By the end of November 2011, there were 36 Cuban migrants being housed in temporary trailers at the Immigration Detention Centre in George Town. The trailers were later declared unsafe for human habitation.
The problem of budgeting for Cuban refugees has plagued the Cayman Islands government before. In previous years, government has seen budget estimates of $60,000 for refugee care balloon to $600,000 because large numbers of migrants inadvertently arrived in the Cayman Islands.
In addition, government officials have said additional costs may have to be incurred in dealing with Cuban migrant housing.
One of the matters being considered in the upcoming review of the local prison system is whether to move the women’s prison from the Fairbanks location to an area at the men’s lock up at Northward.
The proposal would free up space at Fairbanks prison for the Immigration Detention Centre, which has been shuttered because it is unsafe. The idea is to move the Cuban migrants detained in the Cayman Islands to the former women’s prison, once it is cleared out.