Sexual assault alleged at migrant center

The Human Rights Commission alleges that Cuban migrants have been subject to exploitation and sexual assault while awaiting repatriation in Cayman detention centers.

Hundreds of Cuban migrants have landed in the Cayman Islands this year on their way to Central America, overwhelming the main immigration detention center to the point where the Immigration Department had to house migrants in the civic centers in Bodden Town and East End. Cubans who land in Cayman are housed by the Immigration Department until they can be sent back to their home country.

The Commission released a letter last week, addressed to the chief officer for the Home Affairs Ministry and dated June 8, detailing concerns with conditions for Cuban migrants who landed in Cayman.

Responding over the weekend to the release of the letter, the Ministry of Home Affairs criticized the commission for making its criticisms public and said no migrants had made complaints about criminal activity to police.

Late last month a disturbance among detainees at the Bodden Town Civic Centre resulted in police using pepper spray to bring the situation under control. - Photo: Jewel Levy
Late last month a disturbance among detainees at the Bodden Town Civic Centre resulted in police using pepper spray to bring the situation under control. – Photo: Jewel Levy

Wesley Howell, with the ministry, said upgrades to the main immigration detention center in George Town should be complete this week, increasing capacity at the facility to 100. The added capacity, the ministry said, “will reduce reliance on secondary accommodations such as the Bodden Town Civic Centre and the East End Civic Centre.”

Commissioners wrote that detainees told them “that sexual activity (some of which may constitute sexual assault) has been occurring amongst detainees.”

The letter says that detainees alleged that there was also a “sexual relationship between a private security guard at the East End Civic Centre [previously being used to house migrants] and a detainee.”

Additionally, commissioners note “an allegation that a private security guard at the East End Civic Centre regularly smoked ganja with detainees and that those detainees were given special privileges (i.e. additional phone use); and allegations that private security guards have allowed detainees to be picked up from the East End Civic Centre and taken off the property during the night.”

Private security guards have been responsible for the immigration detention camps set up at the civic centers in Bodden Town and East End.

Commissioners called on government to have police investigate the criminal allegations and to create new policies and procedures to address how detainees are housed while awaiting repatriation.

Commissioners, writing to the Ministry of Home Affairs, called on government to have the detention centers inspected by the Fire Service and the Department of Environmental Health to make sure the centers are safe and clean.

The ministry on Sunday said fire and environmental health officials will inspect detention centers for safety and cleanliness. The written statement also said the Prison Service issued a public tender recently to hire a sole provider for security services. The statement notes, “The procurement of a single security services firm was a strategic decision in the public interest as it was based on an evaluation of operational considerations including risks, logistics, and consistency in retaining quality security services.”

Responding to the allegations of criminal activity, the Ministry of Home Affairs writes, “In relation to information recently collected by the HRC through interviews with detained migrants, the Ministry notes that some of the allegations were indeed of a serious nature. Notably, however, [neither] the Department of Immigration nor the Prison Service have received a formal complaint from any detained migrant regarding the use of drugs, consensual sexual activity, or sexual assault at either the IDC or any of the Civic Centres.”

The ministry statement continues, “It is disappointing that the HRC has chosen to publish communications that carry an accusatory undertone of inaction on the part of the Ministry and other supporting departments.”

In an earlier letter to the head of the Immigration Department, also made public Friday, Commission members wrote, “The guidelines should cover the entire process, from the first encounter with enforcement agencies to the final outcome, whether that is the grant of asylum or repatriation. At the very least, policies should include provisions for advising migrants of their rights, facilitating access to pro bono legal advice upon request and provide timetables for the asylum application procedure, appealing asylum decisions, seeking judicial review of Tribunal decisions and repatriation procedures.”

Late last month a disturbance among detainees at the Bodden Town Civic Centre resulted in police using pepper spray to bring the situation under control.

The report notes several other concerns over migrants’ detention and treatment. Commissioners wrote that migrants have not been properly assessed on arrival; differing rules for detainees depending on what site they are housed at; and inconsistencies in treating migrants with special medical needs such as pregnancy or HIV/AIDS.

The Commissioners said that the detention centers were overcrowded and fire exits were blocked. They also wrote that men and women were housed together and had to use the same showers and bathrooms.

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