Officers patrol the beach in Turks and Caicos with the help of the RCIPS helicopter. - Photo: RCIPS

The Royal Cayman Islands Police air operations unit, along with the British Royal Navy, was called to the Turks and Caicos Islands last week for an emergency response to a sudden spike in Haitian immigrants coming to the small eastern Caribbean island territory.

The Turks and Caicos Islands chain is due north of Haiti and annually receives hundreds of migrants from its southern neighbors who come ashore in makeshift water craft and are typically detained and deported if they come ashore.

However, the migration went to much larger numbers when “word got out” that the TCI’s coastal radar equipment had gone down, according to Matthew Forbes, head of the Cayman Governor’s Office.

The RCIPS helicopter and the RFA Mounts Bay arrived in the TCI last Monday to assist local police officers track down migrant groups.

“The RCIPS helicopter was instrumental in operations to capture a large number of illegal migrants,” a statement from the Cayman Islands government Friday noted, adding that once the migrants realized the additional British and Caymanian patrols were there, the numbers reduced dramatically. “The helicopter returned to the Cayman Islands [Friday] after urgent repairs to TCI’s coastal radar were completed.”

This is the second time in the past year that the RCIPS helicopter has been deployed to assist the Turks and Caicos Islands. The chopper was also sent to the TCI in September to assist the islands after Hurricane Irma hit the eastern Caribbean in August-September 2017.

TCI Police Commissioner James Smith, who served as acting police commissioner in Cayman during late 2008 and early 2009, said the assistance given by Cayman officers during the migrant crisis was of “incredible value.”

“The crews worked extended hours providing invaluable aerial cover and surveillance at sea and on land facilitating successful operations in challenging conditions,” Mr. Smith said. “I am very grateful to the commissioner of police of the RCIPS, the Cayman government, but especially the crews and engineer for the service they provided. They are a great credit to the service and Cayman Islands.”

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