Rotten food with fly [*] infestation, dirty and stopped-up toilets, moldy or damaged showers and inadequate fire prevention systems were found during an inspection of the Immigration Detention Centre in George Town last week by members of the Human Rights Commission.
According to correspondence obtained by the Cayman Compass, Commission Chairman James Austin-Smith urged Her Majesty’s Prisons Service in Cayman to respond to concerns raised by the rights group within 48 hours following its visit to the center.
“Due to the extensive nature of the unsanitary conditions, the government must take steps to rectify this situation before the facility becomes uninhabitable and a further health risk,” Mr. Austin-Smith wrote in a July 11 letter, noting that the Cuban detainees themselves have apparently not bothered to clean their own facilities for some time.
“The detainees are provided with cleaning materials to clean these areas after their use, [but] this has clearly not been done,” Mr. Austin-Smith stated.
Concerns about conditions within the detention center, which is a fenced area containing a number of trailer homes next to the police jail in Fairbanks, George Town, are made even more urgent by the prison service’s plan to move Caymanian prison inmates to the facility as a stopgap measure to relieve overcrowding.
As of Friday afternoon, no prisoners from HM Northward in Bodden Town had been relocated to the Immigration Detention Centre at Fairbanks. However, it was understood that some of the Cuban detainees were in the process of being relocated to other facilities – government had not specified where but migrants indicated three had already been moved to housing outside the center.
Interim Prisons Director Steven Barrett responded to Mr. Austin-Smith’s letter Friday, noting he was “disappointed” by the state of the bathroom facilities and that the situation in the kitchen where flies buzzed around spoiled food was “unacceptable.”
“Food storage and handling areas will be deep-cleaned and a program of hygienic inspections commenced,” Mr. Barrett said.
A local plumbing contractor will be brought in to fix broken toilets and shower heads and the bathroom areas will be cleaned as well, however, Mr. Barrett said the cleanliness of these areas generally is the responsibility of the Cuban detainees.
There are approximately a dozen migrants left in Cayman, with most awaiting the outcomes of asylum claims before the Immigration Appeals Tribunal. Some of those cases have taken years to come before the appellate body.
The Human Rights Commission, and former Human Rights Committee, have expressed concerns about government’s long-standing decision to hold in detention every migrant at the center “without consideration of their individual circumstances and the risk they pose.”
“Can you please provide the commission with an explanation for this blanket policy and clarify why consideration has not been given to assessing each detainee to determine the necessity for detention in accordance with the convention relating to the status of refugees,” Mr. Austin-Smith wrote.
Mr. Barrett responded Friday: “That particular matter is not with the remit of my director of prisons role.”
Although the prisons service now staffs security functions at the Immigration Detention Centre, a move which was instituted in 2013 to prevent frequent escapes by migrants at the time, the Cayman Islands Immigration Department has responsibility for those individuals and processes both their repatriation and their initial asylum requests.
On Thursday, a statement from the government Ministry of Immigration noted that Acting Chief Immigration Office Bruce Smith had agreed to “review” the continuing detention of the migrants.
“In reviewing their detention, any potential risks posed to the community by their release will be the paramount consideration,” the release stated.
The migrants had also complained earlier of not having access to cellular telephones within the detention center, but prisons officials said they are able to make calls on provided landline telephones. One of those landlines had been out of service but was repaired by last Monday.
In addition, Mr. Barrett said it was clear the migrants had received mobile phones from somewhere as they had appeared on social media in recent weeks.
“There are certain security-related challenges connected to the use of mobile phones within the Immigration Detention Centre,” he said, adding that he would be open to considering “controlled use of mobile phones” within the center.
That prospect becomes more difficult if Northward Prisoners are moved into the facility. The prisons service officially does not allow mobile phones inside lockup, although prisons statistics showed 75 mobile phones were recovered inside Northward last year.
The Human Rights Commission representatives did speak with detainees who went on hunger strike earlier this month in protest of the length of time their asylum cases were taking to process.
Four Cuban detainees were continuing to participate in the strike late last week – however, the strike ended by the weekend, following discussions with the HRC. A Government Information Services press release said eight originally joined the strike, while the migrants said nine were participating.
Contrary to reports from migrants, the HRC representatives say those individuals did have regular access to a physician, although rights commission officials noted they had “refused to be seen” during a recent doctors’ visit.
“Following our conversation, each of the four detainees agreed they would begin eating again, whilst the commission made inquiries regarding their concerns,” Mr. Austin-Smith said.
Commission representatives promised to provide an update on the progress of the asylum applications by Friday.
[*] Editor’s note: Word changed in opening paragraph for clarity.