Five Cubans plead guilty to escaping custody

El Arca arrived in Cayman waters over the weekend carrying more than 30 Cuban migrants. - PHOTO: CHARLES DUNCAN

Five Cubans who escaped from custody were sentenced to one day in prison when they appeared in Summary Court on Thursday.

They all pleaded guilty to escaping from the William Allen McLaughlin Civic Centre in East End on Feb. 5. The facility is being used as an overflow site for the Immigration Detention Centre in George Town.

Senior Crown counsel Tricia Hutchinson said the men arrived in Cayman on different dates, were refused entry and were taken into custody pending repatriation to Cuba.

Their escape was discovered after 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 5, she said.

Alexy Barban Tornes, 23, had arrived on Feb. 1. Reynier Sosa Arias, 27, arrived on Jan. 31.

After their escape, they were apprehended by prison officials near Old Prospect Road on Feb. 8 and handed over to immigration officers at the George Town Police Station.

Yuniesky Fernandez Ocana, 27, and Yorge Mesa Escalona, 26, came to Cayman on Jan. 30. Ignacio Felipe Nunez Lopez, 20, arrived on Jan. 31. All three were apprehended by immigration officials in East End on Feb. 9 and taken into custody at the George Town Police Station.

Ms. Hutchinson said there is an agreement between the governments of Cayman and Cuba by which the men “would automatically be repatriated.”

She indicated that officials had raised the question of recommendations for deportation. If such orders were issued, the men would not be allowed to return to Cayman, she noted.

Before passing sentence, Magistrate Grace Donalds asked if the men wanted to say anything. Several did, with the help of an interpreter.

“I would like to be able to continue my journey to Honduras [and] not go back to Cuba,” Sosa Arias said. He said the men had made a lot of sacrifices and taken risks to reach this far.

Nunez Lopez wondered why they were being held so long if they were going to be sent back. “Why not send us right away?” he asked.

Escalona said they had endured hunger and the risk of dying at sea. “A lot of us are educated, but we don’t have a job in our country. It is very painful to have to go back to our country and start from zero,” he said.

The magistrate sentenced each defendant to one day in prison and took into account the time they had already spent in custody.

“I will not make a specific recommendation for deportation,” she stated. The men thanked her.

They will remain in the custody of immigration officials until they are returned to Cuba.

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