The Cayman Islands government has refuted statements by Cuban detainees who say their asylum petitions have been subject to excessive delays.
A statement from Government Information Services, however, does not specify processing times or confirm whether there are migrants who have been held in detention for six months to a year or longer.
“All of the migrants who are in IDC [Immigration Detention Centre] for any length of time will usually have a legal impediment which prevents them from being sent back to Cuba at this time, thus the delay in either releasing them into the community or returning them to Cuba,” said Jamie Hicks with GIS.
Regarding concerns from migrants about access to proper legal counsel, GIS said information is provided to detainees upon request.
“The [Department of Immigration] will always give a list of attorneys to the migrants who request a lawyer and they will choose a lawyer on the list who they wish to represent them on their matter. The migrants are readily updated on their cases from their legal adviser,” Hicks said.
“Detainees can also write letters to Immigration or the Human Rights Commission if they are having any issues or concern with their case. The HRC has gone to the IDC on occasions and spoken to migrants regarding their concerns. In the event a legal interpreter is needed, the DOI will also provide that service.”
Asylum-seeker Miguel Garcia, who has been in detention for a reported three-and-a-half months, said he expected around 20 Cubans to be deported from the George Town facility on Tuesday. He estimated an additional 40-plus detainees who have requested asylum would likely stay in Grand Cayman for processing.
An open letter from Garcia, intended for the Governor’s Office, was intercepted by immigration officials on Feb. 13, and an immigration officer confirmed it has been sent to the prisons director for review. Garcia described the letter to the Cayman Compass, saying it is a plea to the governor for political asylum.
Garcia said he arrived unintentionally in the Cayman Islands after the vessel he was in with other migrants, destined for Honduras, became shipwrecked. Garcia said he had planned to go to Costa Rica, where he has family.
Now he is requesting asylum in the Cayman Islands, where he hopes he will be able to work and start a new life.
Fellow detainee Victor Maikel Merladet Leon, who has been in the Cayman Islands for two months, said he filed a formal asylum petition about four weeks ago. He said he expected a response within two weeks but has not yet received word from the government. Merladet said he spent 10 days in Little Cayman before flying to Grand Cayman, where he was homeless for five days. He then decided to turn himself into immigration.
He is now working for free with other migrants on renovating the Fairbanks female prison, next door to the immigrant detention facility. Merladet said he chose to work with the construction crew as a way to pass the time.