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.
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.