Islands awash in migrants
A boatload of 33 men and eight women was spotted offshore of Cayman Brac late Wednesday night, the third boatload of Cuban migrants to pass through these islands over the past month.
Immigration Department officials said the makeshift craft was still there early Thursday and “kind of cramped,” with a few passengers aboard the boat claiming to be suffering from illness. The migrants asked authorities for a 24-hour respite period to wait for rough seas to clear up.
The latest craft to appear on the Brac was just five days ahead of one that showed up there Friday, June 27. That vessel, with more than 30 migrants aboard, was spotted off East End Sunday, June 29. After receiving some drinking water from local residents, the migrants continued their journey.
Another large group of migrants, which finally departed Grand Cayman on June 26 after spending 11 days floating off coastal waters. The boat, which at one time held 32 migrants, first arrived in the Colliers area of East End on June 14. The Cubans blamed poor sea conditions for delaying their trip to Honduras. The group was ordered off the islands last week, though five of their number stayed behind and is now being housed at the Immigration Detention Centre in George Town.
Since mid-June, there have been well more than 100 Cuban migrants in Grand Cayman or Cayman Brac’s coastal waters.
Detained migrant self-harms
Meanwhile, the migrant detention center, which is now holding more than 30 people awaiting repatriation to Cuba, has its own issues with an apparent suicide attempt involving one of the migrants staying there on Wednesday.
The man, who cut up his own arm, underwent surgery at the Cayman Islands Hospital and was expected to survive. Immigration authorities investigating the matter said the man appeared to be “depressed” and frustrated about the time he’d had to spend in the low-security detention.
Repatriation to Cuba has been taking an average of two or three months to accomplish and, typically, by the time one group of migrants is flown off, another group of arrivals has taken their place in the detention center. Housing, feeding and caring for the migrants cost Cayman more than $500,000 during the recently ended 2013/14 budget year.
Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Gary Wong said Thursday that sources in Cuba have indicated the boats being used by the Cuban migrants are being built somewhere along the southern coast of the large island nation about 90 miles north of Cayman. Mr. Wong said immigration officials had received information that the boat building is being financed by the families of Cuban migrants who are currently living in the U.S.
“Their families are paying a couple of thousand dollars per seat [on these boats],” Mr. Wong said. “They’re giving them just enough [supplies] to get here and the migrants come to Cayman hoping they will get more stuff.”
Attempts to renegotiate the current repatriation arrangement that exists between Cuba, the U.K. and Cayman were put off until September of this year.
Right now, Cayman is operating on the basis of a 1999 Memorandum of Understanding with the Cuban government. There have been some changes to the system recently that allow any migrants to apply for asylum in the Cayman Islands, but most of those individuals are considered economic migrants rather than political refugees. The travelers, mostly men, are usually looking to get into Honduras and then head up through Central America to the United States to find work.
The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission asked the government in 2013 to consider redrafting the 1999 agreement with Cuba.
“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 Human Rights Commission website. “[It] does not portray that refugees are given the opportunity to apply for and engage in a process to seek asylum.”
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.