Seven Cuban migrants who were denied asylum by government have appealed their cases to the Grand Court, where a two-day hearing began on Tuesday.
The Cubans are represented by attorney Alastair David, who argued to Grand Court Justice Ingrid Mangatal that his clients did not have a fair hearing in front of the Immigration Appeals Tribunal, which denied their asylum applications.
Mr. David said they did not have access to an attorney at their initial hearings, and that the Immigration Appeals Tribunal did not follow international conventions when considering their applications. The attorney further argued that the Immigration Law may be unconstitutional because it allows government to grant asylum to refugees, but not to allow “limited leave” to stay here for non-refugees who may have their rights violated if they’re returned to the country they fled.
Rights violations could indeed be in store for the seven migrants if they are returned to Cuba, Mr. David said.
The attorney explained that Cuba is a place that punishes political dissent and disloyalty, imposes arbitrary punishments on people, has harsh prison conditions, and interferes with other basic rights.
“This is all directly relevant to all of the appellants,” Mr. David said. “They all expressed concerns that they will be returned to Cuba and imprisoned.”
Mr. David said one of his clients – who has been in Cayman for several years – was imprisoned in Cuba for five months for refusing to work for the government. His client had refused to go into the Cuban military because he said he was against the government.
“They work you like a slave, and I’m not a slave,” that Cuban told the Immigration Appeals Tribunal, according to Mr. David.
After being imprisoned, the Cuban decided to flee his country. He made three attempts, failing on his first two before making it to Cayman on the third. Between his failed attempts, he hid to escape further punishment from government, Mr. David said.
Despite these factors, government concluded that there was “objectively no” risk that this migrant would be harmed or persecuted if he were returned to Cuba, Mr. David said.
“Based on what?” the attorney asked. “I’ll drum this in: This is why attorneys are needed in these cases.”
Mr. David added that in its decisions – the Immigration Appeals Tribunal made its decision on the Cuban mentioned above in April 2017 – the tribunal did not mention several important issues that human rights conventions say must be considered.
“We don’t know their view on Cuba, we don’t know what they think will happen if he returns. We don’t know if they believe that Cuba views him as a dissident,” he said, referring to the appeals tribunal.
Mr. David was scheduled to go through the circumstances of each of his clients on Tuesday. The Immigration Appeals Tribunal will have a chance to respond to the challenge on Wednesday.
If the Cubans’ legal challenge is successful, the Grand Court does not have power to grant asylum but would send the cases back to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal with orders to reconsider the applications. Mr. David mentioned that he might push for new members to be on the next tribunal, too.