13 Cuba migrants who landed on Little Cayman now in custody

The Immigration Detention Centre in central George Town. – Photo: Brent Fuller

Immigration authorities announced Thursday they had taken into custody a new group of Cuban migrants on Saturday, sending nine men and four women to the Fairbanks detention facility.

The 13 brings to 68 the illegal immigrant population at Fairbanks.

In a brief statement, immigration officials said the group, which landed on Little Cayman, “indicated a desire to disembark in the Cayman Islands after their vessel developed engine problems.”

Gary Wong, deputy chief immigration officer, regularly responsible for processing Cuban arrivals, said the group initially had arrived last Friday, but decided to continue their journey.

“Their boat ran into trouble,” he said.

Mr. Wong said Brac-based immigration officials had taken them into custody.

Transported by boat to Grand Cayman, the new group joins 55 other immigrants at the detention center, where they will be held until repatriated, normally on a government-funded Cayman Airways charter.

Repatriations currently take an average of three weeks to six weeks, but may take as long as several months. Delays continue to plague the process, despite last year’s April 17 Havana-George Town memorandum of understanding, replacing an original 1999 MOU.

The new agreement mandates faster notification of Havana after arrest of illegal immigrants by Cayman authorities, faster repatriation to Cuba and a reduction of the time spent in the Fairbanks center – all in an effort to reduce costs.

The April MOU also touched on shared expenses between the two governments and asylum claims.

As of Feb. 15, Cayman had spent $870,000 since the July 1 start of the 2015-16 fiscal year, and was on track to spend at least $1 million by its June 30 end.

In 2014-15, the Cayman Islands government spent $1.6 million on the detention, housing and repatriation of Cuban migrants. In 2013, expenses were $589,000; in 2012, $300,829; and in 2011, $26,031.

A statement from immigration officials cautioned against any unofficial contact between the public and refugees, prohibiting any offers of assistance.

Local laws “criminalise acts by any persons” assisting illegal immigrants, according to the statement, citing penalties of CI$50,000 and seven years in jail.