A Cuban migrant who escaped the Immigration Detention Centre to bring what he called human rights violations there to the public’s attention was sentenced to three months imprisonment by Magistrate Valdis Foldats on Thursday.
“Even though you’re frustrated, you must use legal means [to address your grievances],” Mr. Foldats said before sentencing the man, who will serve his term at Northward Prison.
According to Crown Counsel Eleanor Fargin, the Cuban came to Cayman on a boat with fellow migrants headed to Honduras last December. When the boat “had difficulties” reaching its final destination, said Ms. Fargin, the man jumped overboard near Little Cayman.
From there, he paid cash to buy a ticket to Grand Cayman on Cayman Airways, and turned himself in to immigration authorities on Dec. 21.
For the next roughly seven months, the Cuban was held at the Immigration Detention Centre while he awaited his application for asylum to be processed.
On July 26, after a conversation with Immigration officers that left him “unhappy with the answers given” to him, the man fled the facilities, said Ms. Fargin.
Officers immediately pursued him as he fled into nearby mangroves, and soon found him running in swamp water. The man tried running away from them but was sinking, and so the officers caught up with him, said Ms. Fargin.
The Cuban did not resist when officers took him back into custody.
At court on Thursday, the man, who did not have legal representation, was given a chance to make a statement before his sentencing. He had pleaded guilty at an earlier appearance to the charge of escaping lawful custody.
“I know I ran and that’s a mistake, but I couldn’t do anything else,” he said via a court-appointed interpreter, adding that he considers it a rights violation to hold him and other refugees for such a long period of time. “I was searching for freedom from Cuba, and now they keep us captive here.”
Mr. Foldats said the starting point for sentencing escapees is six months, but that the man’s cooperation led him to reduce that punishment to three months.
Other escapes from the detention facility have been given sentences as short as one day, according to Cayman Compass archives.
Days before his escape, the Cuban man had contacted the Compass 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 at the time.
“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 last month that 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.