Nearly $1 million has been spent since July handling an ever-increasing number of Cuban migrants who land in the Cayman Islands.
The influx, which has led to community centers being used as overflow detention centres, is showing no signs of slowing. Officials said Thursday that another makeshift boat carrying 17 migrants had been observed “waiting out bad weather” in the islands’ territorial waters.
The sharp increase in arrivals appears to be putting a strain on the island’s finances as well as its infrastructure.
There are currently 123 migrants on island, spread between the Immigration Detention Center and community centers in East End, North Side and Bodden Town.
Since the current financial year began in July 2015, the government has spent an estimated $870,000 on migrants, according to a statement from the Immigration Department on Thursday.
This year alone, 122 Cuban migrants have landed in the Cayman Islands, joining scores of others who were already being held here awaiting repatriation to Cuba. Since Jan. 1, 52 migrants have been returned to their home countries, meaning a net increase of 70 migrants since the turn of the year.
The end of hurricane season and fear over a possible change in U.S. policy on Cuban immigration appears to be fueling the recent increase, according to officials.
Anxiety over possible changes to the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, which allows privileges to Cubans entering the U.S. that are not typically afforded to migrants from other countries, has been blamed for driving up illegal immigration from Cuba over the past two years.
The Cayman Islands government spent just $26,031 in the 2011 calendar year on providing support and assistance to migrants. That number had risen to $1.576 million by 2014.
The figure of $870,000 quoted by officials on Thursday for the first six months of the 2015/16 financial year suggests the economic cost continues to grow.
The high number of migrants has also raised security concerns, as a number of escapes have been reported in the past month.
Two Cuban migrants who absconded when their boat washed up in Beach Bay at the end of January were still at large as of Thursday. Another seven migrants who escaped from the William Allen McLaughlin Civic Centre have all been caught. Five appeared in Summary Court on Thursday and were sentenced to a day in prison.
Immigration officials have urged the public not to approach any person whom they suspect to be a missing migrant, asking that they call police or the Immigration Department instead.
They also warned the public not to assist migrants, either on land or in local waters, with food, shelter, transportation or “other forms of comfort.”
According to a statement form the department, the restriction on assistance is in part due to the dangerous and potentially fatal journey the migrants face if they are assisted in patching up their boats and returning to sea.
The department says government is responsible for ensuring migrants have access to food, shelter and medical assistance while they are in Cayman.
“All rights and privileges are extended to these migrants according to local and international laws and conventions,” said Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith.