Thirty-two Cuban migrants were sent home from Grand Cayman over the past two weeks after having landed in the Cayman Islands illegally.
However, nearly as many remain in George Town’s Immigration Detention Centre awaiting the outcome of Cuban and local officials’ processing of their repatriation cases. Dozens of the detainees have gone on the run in recent weeks, although all but one has been recaptured.
“It’s just a constant flow of migrants leaving that country,” Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Gary Wong said Wednesday. “There’s no particular reason for so many coming at one time, they’re all just looking for a better way of life.”
The Cubans’ quest for better fortunes has cost the Cayman Islands government hundreds of thousands of dollars in past budget years for housing and care while they await – sometimes for months – the outcome of asylum requests or simply to be sent back home.
The wait for repatriation led to the latest round of escapes from the low-security detention center in the Fairbanks area of George Town, according to Mr. Wong.
“The last few escapes that we’ve been having is because the migrants have said Cuba is taking too long to accept them back,” he said. “So they think they will put pressure [on Cuba] and us [by escaping]. But you and I both know that’s not going to happen.”
More likely, the Cuban government won’t even hear about the escape attempts, Mr. Wong said, and in the meantime, the Cayman Islands community could be put at risk.
Escapes from the migrant center are often viewed in a laissez faire manner by the Cayman community as the Cubans are usually economic migrants and not perceived as a threat.
“[Residents] should think about it more seriously than that,” Mr. Wong said. “We don’t know who they are. We don’t know their background. We don’t know what kind of threats they would pose to the people out there.
“Most of the males who come here have some sort of military training background … that could be dangerous to the average person.”
A number of escapes from the detention center have been reported since the beginning of 2014. They include:
Jan. 20: A lone migrant fled the center around midday and came back of his own accord that evening.
March 11: Three migrants who had been rescued in the water by a cruise ship that later docked in Grand Cayman fled the detention center and were arrested later that day.
March 17: More than two dozen Cubans ran from the center in the middle of the afternoon. All but one were picked up immediately by police and immigration enforcement officials.
March 19: Three migrants escaped from the detention center around 5 p.m. They were not immediately located, but all were eventually rounded up.
April 16: Thirteen migrants ran from detention in the afternoon; 10 were recaptured immediately.
Of all the recent escapes, only one migrant has managed to elude immigration officers and the local police. Mr. Wong said it is suspected that the escapee, Yasmany Gonzalez Rodriguez, is being harbored locally, which is a crime.
The Cayman Islands government communicates with the Cuban government via the British Embassy there, but immigration officials often find it difficult and time-consuming to obtain reliable information about the migrants, who often give false names and do not carry identification.
Also, the men and women who arrive illegally from Cuba could be desperate to avoid returning home.
“Most of the vessels [used by the migrants] are basically homemade,” Mr. Wong said. “They’re actually built in bushes close to the beach and then pushed into the water.
“Once you leave [Cuba] illegally by that kind of means, Cuba does look at them as basically traitors to their cause.”
The migrants are allowed under United Nations conventions to make application for political asylum in the Cayman Islands. However, most do not qualify for that status.