The Cayman Islands is seeking to form a panel of legal experts to help the British territory deal with requests from non-Caymanians who seek to remain here on the basis of political persecution occurring in their home countries.

The Immigration [Amendment] Bill, 2018, due to come before the Legislative Assembly later this week, would establish a “Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal” to hear specific cases where requests for asylum have been turned down by the chief immigration officer.

The five-member tribunal, to be chaired by experienced attorneys, would hear any asylum appeals cases that are now falling before the Immigration Appeals Tribunal.

Immigration law specialist and attorney Alastair David of HSM Chambers said last week that the asylum appeals board, if the legal amendments are approved, is a positive step in dealing with what has been a thorny problem for the islands.

“The Cayman Islands have obviously identified that asylum cases, because of the seriousness and different considerations, require a specialist tribunal to consider these matters,” Mr. David said.

So far this year, Cayman has approved at least four asylum applications, all of them from Cubans who had landed in the islands illegally.

In one matter earlier this year, a Cuban man being held at the Immigration Detention Centre in Fairbanks, George Town was granted asylum and released to temporary government housing after waiting nearly two years for the result of his appeal. At least two other immigrants have been granted asylum this year, one by the appeals tribunal and one by the Immigration Department.

There are 13 people currently housed in the Immigration Detention Centre awaiting repatriation or outcomes of their asylum cases. In recent months, the flow of Cuban migrants to Cayman has slowed from its earlier pace in 2015/2016, when more than 100 undocumented migrants landed in Cayman each year – forcing the government to open community centers to house the overflow population.

At the end of 2016, the U.S. government ended its long-standing “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy for migrants – essentially that those migrants intercepted at sea would be sent back to their home countries, while those on land would be given a chance to apply for resident status.

It was thought by Cayman authorities that the former U.S. policy encouraged Cuban migrants to come to Cayman via makeshift watercraft, looking for safe passage to Honduras or elsewhere in Central America. The migrants were eventually seeking entry to the U.S. where they could rejoin families or find employment.

Typically, the Immigration Department had considered those individuals “economic migrants” rather than political refugees seeking asylum and, until 2016, there were virtually no asylum cases granted.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Immigration Department interviewed more than 100 people who applied for political asylum – one of those applications was granted.

Although, Cayman has maintained extensive and specific rules for asylum applications that involve written or verbal applications made to an immigration officer who then performs an initial assessment of the request, questions were raised more recently about whether those applicants – most of them Cubans – understood the process or if they had access to legal representation.

If the review approves the application for further consideration, a formal interview is conducted with the applicant, the immigration officer and a translator, if needed.

Once the interview and all evidence, if there is any, has been collected, it is forwarded to the chief immigration officer for a final determination. If the application is refused initially, there is a right of appeal to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal. If the immigration amendment bill is approved, those appeals will pass to the new migrant tribunal.

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