The amount the Cayman Islands government spends for the detainment, care, housing and repatriation of illegal migrants has increased from an estimated $270,000 in the 2013/14 budget year to $3.6 million this year.

Adding the $1.75 million spent for the same services during last year’s 2014/15 budget, the government expects to have spent more than $5.3 million on services for migrants within the past 24 months by the time it reaches June 30.

“In a nutshell, the numbers are up as evidenced by overflow to the civic centers,” said Ministry of Home Affairs Deputy Chief Officer Wesley Howell, referencing situations this year where the number of detained Cuban migrants has grown so large that the George Town Immigration Detention Centre can no longer hold them. Community centers in the eastern districts are being used to temporarily house migrants until a number of them can be sent home.

To put the $3.6 million from the current 2015/16 budget year in perspective, that is more than government intends to spend over the next 18 months on rental assistance for needy Caymanians ($2.9 million); more than government expects to spend for care of indigent, elderly and disabled individuals in the next 18 months ($2.1 million); and more than government has budgeted to spend on a residential mental health treatment facility in the next budget ($2.5 million).

It was about three years ago, after a lengthy lull period, that Cayman Islands authorities began noticing a huge influx of Cuban migrants to the islands in numbers not seen since the 1990s when “tent cities” had to be set up in areas of Grand Cayman to house thousands fleeing Cuba.

- Advertisement -

The recent increase is generally blamed, both by Cayman and U.S. authorities, on statements that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration intended to end the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy toward migrants that America has maintained since the mid-’90s.

The policy requires immediate repatriation, or transfer to another country, for any migrant intercepted at sea. However, if they make it to land, migrants would be given a chance to remain in the U.S. If the policy ends, there are fears that the “dry-foot” opportunity will end.

Most of the Cubans traveling through Grand Cayman or Cayman Brac are on their way to Honduras, eventually intending to seek passage through Central America and Mexico to the southwestern U.S. The migrants can apply for asylum status as refugees in Cayman, but they are typically classed as economic migrants, rather than political asylum-seekers. For countries such as Cayman caught in the middle of the migration, dealing with the problem of landed migrants has led to additional costs.

At last count, the Cayman Islands immigration Department had 116 migrants in custody at various locations. About 60 can be kept safely at the detention center in the Fairbanks area of George Town.

Most of the others are being kept at community centers in the less-populous eastern districts of Grand Cayman. Four other migrants, including a pregnant woman and a juvenile who apparently made a trip with a parent from Cuba this year, are being kept in a hotel, according to prisons officials.

There is little the government can do to reduce the costs of migrant care and housing while they are here. The repatriation process with Cuba can often take months, and typically the migrants are sent back on Cayman Airways planes.

In April 2015, Cuba and the Cayman Islands signed a new memorandum of understanding which was touted as helping to speed up the repatriation process. However, the sheer number of migrants now arriving on Cayman’s shores has overwhelmed the process.

- Advertisement -

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now


  1. The Cayman Islands Government spending more money on the Cuban refugees and prisoners than what they spend on the needy citizens of the country. Then what is costing the government so much money to house these refugees? Then why does it take so long to repatriate the refugees and put them on the next flight back to their country of origin. But I think the real big question is who and what these millions are being used for.

  2. First thing we need to do is check who own these security companies that reaping the benefits of these Cubans staying there. It is a life time job for the security Company. Check out who the persons are that own them and then you will understand what is going on. It is just a big rip off of tax payers money. This is not today, this has been signed and sealed for years, but the poor people do not know about this.
    What a disgrace to all governments who can spend over 5. something million a year on refugees while Caymanians are out of work, loosing their homes and business and cannot feed their children. Long time ago these things could not happen, because every day we would have a march in front Glass house. So where are those men and women that can call it together? They do not even have the guts to write about it much less stage a march, and they want to hold, renew, or apply for a seat in LA. Una go sit down, people are fed up.

  3. Good job, Cayman officials. More waste, lies, deceit. Keep it up. You do this well. Use guards to watch the “detainees” clean the streets, take care of the animals in the shelters, and a laundry list of jobs they look healthy enough to carry out. This is welfare waste.

  4. Ron, the days when we used to have MEN and WOMEN running this country is now gone. Don’t you see there are only a handful of Caymanians who dare have enough spunk to open their mouth about the abuse that is taking place. We are being treated better by foreign people than by our own people. Many may not like to hear me say this, but I speak it as I see it; and this pot not afraid to curse kettle black if he not clean.
    Most persons who respond are Status or resident Caymanians, and I am so very proud of them for speaking out, because they have contributed and earned their right to be Caymanian and to be involved in anything that will affect their life here.

  5. That’s a surprising figure. I have seen the shelter the migrants live and it’s not 5 star at all. For that money these guys should be living at the Watercolors. I would love to see the balance sheet for this report.