Cayman Islands law enforcement authorities are responding to an average of nearly 13 incidents each year where they have been called for illegal landings by boat migrants or situations where those migrants are stranded offshore.
However, the number of those incidents have varied widely depending on the year in which they occurred.
According to records produced by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, in 2008 there were 29 calls involving what were described as migrants or refugees. However, in the very next year, 2009, authorities responded to no calls involving migrants illegally landing on shore or those stranded in boats offshore.
Since 2003, records show there have been 129 incidents where police have responded to reports involving ‘Cuban migrants’ or ‘Cuban refugees’. In only three years over the past decade – 2004, 2006, and 2008 – have there been more than 20 such calls in any one year. More recently, those types of calls have fallen off with Cayman reporting just three such incidents in 2010, nine in 2011 and seven during last year.
Although there was a comparatively low number of calls involving Cuban migrants coming to Cayman Islands shores at that time, the local government still had to spend significant public funds responding to those situations. The Cayman Islands expected to spend nearly $250,000 between July 2011 and June 2012 on “services for refugees”; mostly to support and house Cuban boat migrants who end up landing illegally on the territory’s shores. At the beginning for that fiscal year, the government initially budgeted about $28,000 for those services. In 2011, a downturn in the Cuban economy was blamed for the resurgence 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 in previous years when government has seen 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 review of the local prison system was whether to move the women’s prison from the Fairbanks location to an area at the men’s lockup 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.
The housing issue is one of several human rights concerns now pressing on the Cayman Islands with the coming into force of the 2009 Constitution Order’s Bill of Rights.
The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission has asked government to consider re-drafting a 1999 agreement between the British Overseas Territory and Cuba that dictates how migrants from that country are to be dealt with when they illegally land on local shores.
Cayman generally does not consider most of the Cubans that 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.
The memorandum of understanding, signed on 15 April, 1999, between the Cayman Islands and Cuba sets out how the Cayman Islands handles repatriation of Cuban citizens.
Following a lengthy review of the issue, the Human Rights Commission recommended in late 2012 that the deputy governor and attorney general rework the existing memorandum of understanding with Cuba signed between Cayman Islands and Cuban governments.
“The commission is most concerned that the [memorandum] does not indicate that repatriation is not actually the default position of the Cayman Islands government,” according to a summary of issues included on the HRC’s website.
“[It] does not portray that refugees are given the opportunity to apply for and engage in a process to seek asylum.” The commission also recommended that law enforcement officials embark on a public education campaign to inform people about the intent of Section 109 of the Immigration Law, which pertains to human smuggling.
The section makes it an offence “whether for financial or material benefit or not” for a person to assist or facilitate the transportation, harbouring or movement into or out of the Cayman Islands. Sentences of up to seven years in prison can be given upon conviction under the section. The Human Rights Commission also seeks to discuss with local police how marine officers determine whether a Cuban migrant’s craft should be brought ashore when it is found in territorial waters. Right now, Cuban boat migrants are generally allowed to continue on their journey unless they ask for help or come ashore illegally.
Cabinet members 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 Cayman Islands although that often does not occur.