Nine Cubans held in George Town’s Immigration Detention Centre launched a hunger strike Sunday, hastening a regional media outreach campaign seeking to reveal what the detainees describe as human rights abuses by the Cayman Islands government.
In recent weeks, a majority of the center’s 13 remaining detainees, all of whom have applied for asylum, have allied with the pro-democracy Cuban Nationalist Party to voice complaints and broadcast live on Facebook from inside the detention center.
The men appear in photos and videos holding a handmade banner in support of the political group, with messages such as “Down with communism,” “Freedom,” and “Democracy.”
They consider themselves “political prisoners” in Cayman, held in detention for indefinite periods because they reject returning to communist Cuba. Five men in the center have been detained for more than two years. Six others have been detained for more than one year.
Neither the Department of Immigration nor the Prison Service replied to requests to clarify the center’s cellphone policy or whether live broadcasts created any security concerns for the center, which falls under Prison Service management and will soon house select prisoners from the overcrowded men’s prison, Northward.
“As matters regarding asylum seekers are currently under judicial consideration, and will be heard shortly, the Ministry would like to refrain from discussing such details until the matters before the court have concluded,” said a Department of Immigration statement.
The Department of Immigration has declined interview requests about the center since December 2017.
The Human Rights Commission, after becoming aware of the first live broadcast made on June 18, said the language barrier created a problem for its staff.
“As the video is in Spanish the Commission is only aware of the general nature of the complaints. The facility is aware of the contact information for the Human Rights Commission and we have no reports that any detainees have been refused access to the Commission to file a human rights complaint.
“You will be aware that over the years the Commission has expressed its concerns on various issues related to immigration detainees and will continue to monitor such matters moving forward,” the commission said.
Detainees say they are now demanding the Human Rights Commission attend the facility to address a myriad of allegations including excessive detention periods, forced or coerced repatriations to Cuba, poor quality of food and limited access to phone calls, thus restricting contact with families and legal counsel.
Detainees say cellphones are considered prohibited contraband, which they sometimes hide from the center’s staff.
They have also become concerned that the center’s landlines have been out of operation.
“They have not explained why the phones don’t work. We can’t communicate with our families in Cuba or with anyone in [Cayman],” said one man during a Facebook video broadcast Tuesday.
Another said: “We want to keep the world informed about our situation, in case something happens to us. We want to hold the Cayman Islands government responsible for what happens here.”
The detainees have begun conducting interviews with journalists in the United States, Cuba and Latin America to expose their experience in the Cayman Islands.