A migrant detained for seven months at the Immigration Detention Center escaped over the facility’s barbed-wire fence Wednesday and was recaptured in the swamp area near the complex.
Facility guards confirmed the man jumped the center’s fence and was immediately pursued by officers. He was captured around 6:20 p.m. and taken for medical attention at the Cayman Islands Hospital for a gash on his foot. The asylum seeker refused treatment, according to a government spokesperson, and was relocated to the Police Custody Suites.
The man contacted the Cayman Compass in the days before his escape attempt and expressed frustration over his extended detention time. He said he has not been given updates about his case and has not been provided an opportunity to appear before the court.
“I have already spoken on various occasions with immigration officials at the center that I want to present myself before the court. They haven’t given me a response. Their excuse is that there are people that have been here for more time than me and that I have to wait,” he said.
“I don’t know how to make them understand how much I want to go before the court to find a solution to my case.… There are people that were presented at court and they’ve already been waiting six months for a response. They won’t give them a response and they were told in court that they would get a response in 15 days.”
The man previously held a hunger strike and wrote an open letter to Governor Helen Kilpatrick to attract government attention to his case.
Immigration Chief Officer Wesley Howell said 97 Cuban migrants have been repatriated from the Cayman Islands this year. Forty-four remain in detention and are awaiting decisions on their cases.
“These matters are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and can be legally complex. Improvements to the system have been made following recent training by specialists from the United Kingdom. I am also appointing a senior member of my ministry to carry out an immediate review of outstanding cases to ensure that they are resolved as quickly as possible,” Mr. Howell said.
Migrants at the center said around 20 detainees have appeared before the court regarding their asylum petitions and that none have received a response.
Many of the migrants have been held for more than a year at the center, which several described as being like a prison. While the asylum seekers are not considered prisoners, they are managed by the Prison Service and are not permitted to leave the facility unaccompanied.
One man said he has been held in detention for a year and seven months.
A female migrant, who has been held for a year, said detainees do not know their rights or how to seek recourse.
She alleged a female guard mocked and filmed the migrants after Wednesday’s escape attempt and said migrants were threatened with deportation if they protested.
Detainees described the situation at the center as tense following the incident.
“We want an answer about what is going to happen to us,” one man said, calling the conditions at the center inhumane. “They treat us like dogs.… This place is like a prison.”
A group of men said they will no longer work on renovations on the Fairbanks women’s prison, housed next door to the immigration facility. Detainees have worked on the project for months in exchange for points to purchase phone cards and snacks at the facility’s commissary.
Migrant wait times have long been a problem for the immigration department and have motivated previous escape attempts. Eleven Cuban migrants escaped from the Immigration Detention Center in April 2015. Five Cubans who escaped custody in Feb. 2016 were sentenced to one day in prison.
While international law does not explicitly prohibit the detention of migrants, it does establish protections against arbitrary and unlawful detentions. Guidelines from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees state, “detention is an exceptional measure and can only be justified for a legitimate purpose.”
The UNHCR establishes refugee detentions should be evaluated on an individual basis and should only occur in exceptional circumstances: “Detention can only be exceptionally resorted to for a legitimate purpose. Without such a purpose, detention will be considered arbitrary, even if entry was illegal.”
As an alternative to detention, the UNHCR recommends setting up supervised community release with a designated residence and reporting conditions.
The Cayman Islands entered an updated memorandum of understanding with the Cuban government in April 2015 intended to establish more efficient repatriation. The Governor’s Office declined to release the agreement publicly, citing diplomatic concerns.