Cuban migrant costs soar to $1.6M

The Cayman Islands government spent nearly $1.6 million last year on the detention, housing and repatriation of Cuban migrants who arrived illegally on the country’s shores.  

The cost is far beyond anything the local government has seen in recent years and is due mostly to a large increase in the number of migrants coming to Cayman shores and partly to security improvements made last year at the Immigration Department’s detention center for migrants in George Town.  

The increase in migrants was illustrated again Wednesday as a boatload of 46 Cubans arrived on Cayman Brac. They were said to be making minor repairs to the craft and waiting for weather conditions to improve before setting off.  

According to figures provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which has responsibility for immigration, policing and issues relating to the security and care of Cuban migrants, Cayman spent $1,576,000 during calendar year 2014 on migrant-related costs. Those include the costs of detention, feeding, housing, any medical care and transportation upon their return to Cuba.  

In 2013, the government spent $589,000 on migrant detention, care and repatriation. In 2012, that figure was $300,829. In 2011, it was $26,031.  

In 2010 and 2009, government spent nothing on illegally landed Cuban migrants because none had arrived in Cayman.  

The cost figures listed here are for the calendar year, January through December. They will vary from what is contained in the Cayman Islands annual budget, which runs from July 1 to June 30.  

Cayman did see more than double the number of migrants arrive on its shores during 2014 than in the previous year. According to the ministry, 143 Cuban migrants arrived in the Cayman Islands during 2014. Sixty-seven migrants arrived here in 2013, and 69 were reported in 2012.  

More Cuban migrants arrived in Cayman last year than in any year since 2006, when the government recorded a total of 148 migrants landing here.  

In the past decade, government officials said 745 Cuban migrants had landed illegally in Cayman, including 21 children.  

The other reason for the major cost increase to government is security improvements made at the Immigration Detention Centre last year in the wake of a number of high-profile escapes by migrants housed at the center.  

Premier Alden McLaughlin announced in June that the detention center would be turned into “a prison” with prison officers guarding the Cuban migrants in the same way they would inmates at Northward or Fairbanks prisons.  

Escapes from the migrant center were being reported at least once every few weeks during early 2014 and were often viewed in a laissez-faire manner by the Cayman community as the Cubans are usually economic migrants and not perceived as a threat.  

However, warnings from Immigration Department officials made government reconsider its stance on the low-security facility.  

“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,” said Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Gary Wong.  

The escapes escalated to the point where, in May 2014, some of the migrants began exhibiting threatening behavior toward the security guards who staffed the facility, government officials said. One of the group jumped the fence and escaped before being captured by prison officers. A second man climbed onto the roof “armed with large rocks” as the flare-up escalated. 

The May 22, 2014 incident followed a number of escapes from the detention center reported since the beginning of last year.  

In the latter half of 2014 and the early part of 2015, no escapes from the Immigration Detention Center have been reported.  

Cubans-Land-at-Spotts-Dock

Cuban migrants speak with a Cayman Islands immigration officer at the Spotts dock last year. – PHOTO: JEWEL LEVY
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