Twenty-eight Cuban migrants who landed in Cayman Brac on Monday flew to Grand Cayman Tuesday to be questioned, pending further developments.
They will be held in the Immigration Reception Centre while officials seek information regarding their identity and other details of their flight from Cuba that ended at 7 a.m. Monday as their 25-foot homemade boat capsized in the surf on the south side of Cayman Brac.
”We have not spoken to them face-to-face yet, so don’t know what happened, whether it was bad weather or something,” said Gary Wong, Deputy Chief Immigration Officer for Enforcement, on Tuesday morning.
The 10 women and 18 men, an unusual mix, he said, had not capsized their own boat, seeking a foothold in the Cayman Islands.
“No, no … the weather was very choppy out there and it was a homemade boat,” he said, fitting the usual pattern that detention of Cuban arrivals by officials “is normally because the vessel is unable to carry on the journey.”
Monday’s group brings to 56 the number of Cubans who have “stayed over” in Cayman since January, The number does not include anyone who stopped, but subsequently continued their journey.
Under a 1999 memorandum of understanding between Havana and George Town, migrants from Cuba cannot be given any assistance, and those who land on Cayman soil must be repatriated to Cuba.
At one point, refugees were given fuel and water to continue their journey, often to Honduras as part of efforts, ultimately, to gain entry to the United States, but a 2005 Cabinet memo ended the practice, encouraging migrants to continue their journey unassisted or face detention and repatriation.
Monday’s group of 28, Mr. Wong said, “is being housed at the Immigration Reception Centre,” next door to Fairbank’s women’s prison on Fairbanks Road.
Police arrested three of the group, however, Monday afternoon after an 11 a.m. report of a burglary at a house in South Side Road East.
Police Chief Inspector Angelique Howell, in charge of “contingency planning,” said the three were arrested “around 2:30 p.m. when they were found hiding in a bush area near to South Side Road East by police and customs officers. The men were arrested on suspicion of burglary and property, which was identified as having been stolen from the house, was recovered.”
Mr. Wong said the three had broken from the larger group immediately upon gaining the beach after their boat overturned: “The group, when they reached shore, they just made a run for it and when officials found the majority of the group, they were informed that there were three more who had ‘disappeared’.”
Chief Inspector Frank Owens said the three – all men, aged 35, 42 and 42 – had been found with clothing from the home in their possession, but would be reunited with the larger group and transported to Grand Cayman for routine processing.
“They will not be prosecuted,” he said, “as the complainant wishes to take no further action.” No other Cubans were in police custody.
Mr. Wong said officials would process the group at the center: “We will get their information, talk to them a little and then take it from there.
Based on the MOU, they will probably be sent back,” although international law allows them to seek asylum and formal refugee status. If the bid fails, however, they are repatriated like all others.
Cuban officials generally interviewed repatriates, Mr. Wong said, “and then release them back to the population.”
“We have had several repeaters,” he said. “One guy even told me this was his 16th attempt” to escape.