Cuban migrants at the George Town Immigration Detention Centre allege asylum applicants have been held in detention indefinitely as a tactic to force self-requested deportation.
Detainee Victor Maikel Merladet Leon said he has been in detention for two months and estimates up to 10 of the 51 Cubans currently in the detention facility have been there for a year or longer.
“There are people here who have been here for more than a year and they haven’t told them anything. Immigration came and did their paperwork and from there they haven’t done anything. I think they’ve forgotten they’re here,” Mr. Merladet said from one of three detention center telephones made available to migrants.
“They take their time. I think the tactic they use is to wait for them to get bored of being here.”
Mr. Merladet gave his asylum interview more than a month ago. Although he was told he would receive a response in two weeks, he said his lawyer has not been able to provide him with an update on his status.
He estimated that most of the 20 migrants expatriated to Havana on Feb. 21 had given up on their asylum petitions and independently requested the Caymanian government send them back to Cuba.
“The very people ask to be brought back to Cuba. They fill out a paper and that’s turned in to a translator here who is in charge of giving it to the security supervisor that day,” he said.
The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission said expatriating migrants while their cases are under review goes against the justice system.
“The Commission would expect that all migrants are kept in detention until their case has been reviewed. The deportation of an individual during the process of an application for asylum would not be in accordance with the principles of natural justice and therefore not supported by the Commission,” said commission manager Deborah Bodden.
She said processing delays may arise from the need to translate information and obtain necessary documentation, but that the commission would expect appeals to be processed in a timely manner.
“There are time lines in place for the confirmation/identification of a detainee, the submission of asylum applications, submission of appeal applications, the facilitation of a repatriation, etc. Such processes have been developed by the Department of Immigration and, in some cases, agreed between the [Cayman Islands government] and the Cuban government,” Ms. Bodden said.
The commission accepts complaints in English and Spanish, and translates material as needed.
Mr. Merladet said migrants have had difficulty translating messages left for them by lawyers. He said the detention center translator told him it is not the job of immigration officials to translate such messages.
The government was not able to provide a copy of the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding between the Cayman Islands and Cuba, which outlines procedures for expatriating migrants to Cuba. The Governor’s Office said the document contains sensitive information that it would need permission from Cuba to release.
The document enables Caymanian officials to quickly transfer “irregular migrants” back to Cuba, but only after the migrants have agreed to return home or have been denied asylum.
Training sessions in the United Kingdom and the Cayman Islands are currently being organized to help address an influx of asylum applicants, according to the Governor’s Office.
The staff training would seek to speed up processing of asylum applications, which have presented new dilemmas for the U.K.’s overseas territories in recent years.
Refugee status grants over the past 10 years reflect an application spike in Cayman. Eighteen refugee grants were made between 2006-2016, 11 of which were awarded in the last year, reported the Department of Immigration.
In contrast, no refugee grants were awarded between 2007 and 2010. One was made in 2006, another in 2011, two in 2014 and three in 2015.
An estimated two grants have been made in 2017. Detainee Miguel Garcia said he has seen two or three migrants leave the Immigration Detention Centre since he arrived three months ago.
The Department of Immigration would not release the total number of refugee applications made or the total number rejected.
“The Department of Immigration cannot comment on how many individuals have applied for asylum here in the Cayman Islands or how many asylum requests are currently pending, due to the security, safety and privacy of those applicants,” the department said.
Almost all of the refugee status grants awarded in the past decade have been made to Cubans, who represent 15 of the 18 applicants. One grant was made to a refugee from Afghanistan, and two were granted to Syrians, one of whom died while seeking medical care in Jamaica in 2016.
Mr. Merladet said conditions became more uncomfortable at the detention center last week after all 51 migrants were moved to one shared bedroom and access was blocked to the second room previously in use. Mr. Merladet said space was limited and he had moved his mattress on top of a piece of furniture. He said the noise level in the shared room made it difficult to communicate on the phones there, which migrants use to speak with their lawyers.