The Disney Wonder cruise ship picked up 12 Cuban migrants while sailing from Miami to Grand Cayman Saturday night.
According to Assistant Chief Immigration Gary Wong, Cayman’s immigration authorities took charge of the eight men and four women when the ship stopped in George Town on Sunday.
The new arrivals bring the total number of Cuban nationals in Cayman awaiting repatriation to Cuba to 134, Mr. Wong said, in one of the biggest waves of Cuban migrants to land in the Cayman Islands in recent years.
A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman told CNN that the migrants were in a “rustic” boat when they were taken on board the Disney cruise ship.
Mr. Wong said Cayman immigration authorities will take the migrants if Grand Cayman is the next scheduled port of call. He said ships will contact the Immigration Department before arriving and “keep them in safe holding.”
It’s unclear where the ship picked up the Cuban migrants. Many people from Cuba have been leaving this year for the United States fearing an end to the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy as relations between the two countries improve. The long-standing policy gives special treatment to Cuban migrants who make it to U.S. soil.
Migrants from Cuba frequently pass through Cayman waters on a southern route to Honduras and then make their way by land through Mexico to the U.S. Two years ago, the Carnival Paradise, on its way to Grand Cayman, rescued 23 men and women from a boat that appeared to be sinking south of Cuba.
Detentions, deportations continue
Mr. Wong said, as of Monday, 134 people from Cuba are currently in the Cayman Islands awaiting repatriation to Cuba.
The Immigration Department’s main detention facility in George Town has been full for weeks and, Mr. Wong said, migrants are being held at community centers in Bodden Town and East End. Caring for the more than 100 migrants in recent weeks, Mr. Wong said, “takes up about all of our time.”
He said his officers have had to work extra hours doing the “quite tedious” work of caring for and guarding the migrants, in addition to their regular duties.
So far this fiscal year, according to the department, government has spent almost $900,000 on caring for the steady flow of migrants. The Cuban migrants are regularly repatriated but more continue to arrive, keeping the detention centers full.
Most have arrived on makeshift boats since the beginning of the year, landing in Cayman Brac or Grand Cayman to take shelter from rough weather, or with boats in need of repair.
Cuban migrants are allowed to pass through Cayman waters but they are taken into custody and sent back to Cuba if they come on land.
At the end of January, two boats, carrying 64 people between them, stopped at Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman to let people off the wooden vessels. The boats were in need of repair and had been battered by a nor’wester. Only one of the boats continued from Grand Cayman, but within a day, the 15 remaining migrants had to be rescued by the Joint Marine Unit as the boat sank about 4 miles off South West Point.
The migrants told people in East End that they were headed to Honduras.