Cubans crowd overflow detention centers

More than 30 Cuban migrants are being held at the William Allen McLaughlin Civic Centre in East End because of overcrowding at the Immigration detention facility in George Town. - PHOTO: MATT LAMERS
More than 30 Cuban migrants are being held at the William Allen McLaughlin Civic Centre in East End because of overcrowding at the Immigration detention facility in George Town. – PHOTO: MATT LAMERS

Community centers across the eastern districts are being used as overspill facilities to house Cuban migrants because of the sheer numbers arriving on Cayman’s shores.

There are currently at least 125 detainees on island and the Immigration Detention Center, which has a capacity of around 60, has been full for several weeks.

With makeshift boats arriving almost every week, the situation has become increasingly difficult for authorities to manage.

Detainees are being shuffled between community centers in East End, Bodden Town and North Side, with private firms called in to manage security.

Seven people escaped from the facility in East End on Friday and were still at large at press time Monday, prompting immigration authorities to shift some of the detainees from that center to the North Side Civic Center.

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At midday on Monday, 64 people were being held at the Immigration Detention Center, 31 in East End and 24 in North Side. A mother and child are being detained separately for health reasons.

Bodden Town community center was also being used to house some detainees until last week.

The Red Cross and charity organization Acts of Random Kindness have assisted authorities in providing clothing and other basic necessities for the detainees. The Red Cross also donated 28 cots for the migrants.

Raquel Solomon, spokesperson for the prison service, which manages the Immigration Detention Center, said authorities were doing their best to manage an increasingly difficult situation.

She said the detainees were being repatriated as fast as Cuban authorities would process the paperwork. Last week, 17 people were sent back to their home country on commercial flights and four more were scheduled to fly out Monday afternoon. But the numbers in Cayman remain high.

“It has been extremely busy for the past couple of months. We have a limit of about 60 at the detention center, so they have opened up the community centers to house some of the lower risk detainees,” Ms. Solomon said.

Denise Miller, disaster manager at the Cayman Islands Red Cross, said it is part of the international organization’s remit to assist vulnerable people of all nationalities anywhere in the world.

She said the Red Cross provides support when needed, including at times, such as now, when the number of migrants in Cayman is especially high.

As fast as the migrants are repatriated to Cuba, new boats arrive.

Two boats carrying 64 migrants stopped in Cayman over the last weekend in January. Of those, 15 were rescued at sea, and four absconded after their vessel landed in Beach Bay.

“There are a lot of boats out there at the moment,” said Ms. Solomon.

The end of hurricane season appears to have fueled a new wave of Cuban boats passing through Cayman’s waters in an attempt to reach Central America and ultimately the U.S.

Cayman officials believe the potential for the U.S. to change its “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy on Cuban immigration is fueling the increase. Currently, any Cuban national who makes it to shore in the U.S. gets a chance to remain there and seek permanent residency, while those intercepted at sea are sent home.

The thawing of diplomatic relations between the two countries has led to speculation that the policy, which gives Cubans special rights not typically afforded to other migrants attempting to enter the U.S., will be discontinued.

That belief combined with the uncertainty of a pending election could be fueling the latest wave of boats passing through Cayman, Ms. Solomon said.

Only a fraction of the boats that pass through Cayman waters end up coming to shore here, usually when their boats break down or supplies of food and water run out.

The Red Cross, which provides detainees with basic necessities as well as access to advice on human rights issues, donated clothing from its thrift shop for the migrants. Acts of Random Kindness also donated a $250 voucher to buy underclothes.

Wesley Howell, deputy chief officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs, said last week that he was concerned about the increased number of migrants showing up in Cayman.

“The migrant vessels are typically more densely loaded with persons, and the northwesters this time of year [make] the seas very treacherous, all of which makes the sea crossing more dangerous,” he said.

“While we note the public’s desire to aid the onward journey of the migrants by sea for humanitarian reasons, we urge the public not to assist these dangerous journeys and to be mindful that the migrants face the risk of horrible death at sea because of the state of their vessels and lack of safety equipment.”

In 2014, he said, the U.N. listed 73 migrants as casualties or missing at sea in the Caribbean area.

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  1. I believe the Government need to realize for once that they are fighting a loosing battle. Cayman Islands Governments and the residents know nothing about these people’s background. I have lived in Cuba for years and enquired about the people escaping and their reason. Ninety five percent of the people who arrive here have a criminal record, and either on bail waiting trial or just finished a sentence. If you do not have a job there you cannot just walk about the place like it is done elsewhere. You will be picked up and put back in prison.
    People are selling every thing to leave; their refrigerators, jewelry, pots and pans, some there very own beds. In Cuba, you will see that the people dress better than we do, and they do not want any gifts unless they are name brand. They know exactly what time it is……….
    Although residents here are concerned and sorry for these fleeing people, our Governments still continue to feel that they, as usual, complain that their hands are tied. No such thing. If a boatload of refugees came here from Haiti or Jamaica seeking refuge, watch how fast they would be put in prison and sent back. One day the Governments will wish they had done the right thing, which is fix the people boats, give them fuel clothes food and water and assist them on their merry way. They do not want to stay here and only have one intention; that is to reach “The Americas”. We have had some very serious problems with refugees before , escaping, committing crimes and staging marches, something that our very own people do not have the guts to do.
    The Governments have a reason why they allow Cuban authorities to dictate to us. As always anyone can have the final say except our own people.

  2. Cayman authorities. Don’t be stupid at the expense of our people here. Kindness begins at home. Be compassionate to the immigrants. Give them the basic items they need, and send them home. Cayman can ill afford to be a welfare country. We also don’t have the law enforcement it takes to control these people. Remember their mind set is one of desperation, and they may do anything to achieve their goals of freedom, including committing crimes.