The Governor’s Office provided insight into how collaboration between the Cayman Islands government and the United Kingdom could reshape the jurisdiction’s management of asylum and refugee cases.
With the Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2018 now in effect, refugee and asylum matters are slated for an overhaul, alongside provisions covering work permits, border control and customs.
“The Governor’s Office is currently working closely with the Deputy Governor’s Office to provide expert U.K. advice on two initiatives that will help to ensure high standards at the IDC [Immigration Detention Centre] and the timely disposal of immigration appeals,” Head of the Governor’s Office, Matthew Forbes, said in a statement.
The first initiative recently brought members of the U.K. Independent Monitoring Board to George Town to provide training to new members of a Cayman Islands Independent Monitoring Board.
“This new organisation will be conducting frequent monitoring visits to all of the Cayman Islands places of detention including the IDC. The Chair and Deputy Chair of the new board are currently in the U.K. receiving further in-depth training, and the work of the organisation is due to commence once they return. The IDC will be a priority area for the initial monitoring visits,” the statement read.
The United Kingdom will also provide experts from its First-tier Tribunal’s Immigration and Asylum Chamber. These experts will assist in training members of the forthcoming Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal, established under the Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
This five-member tribunal will take over responsibilities currently delegated to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal in reviewing asylum applications that have been turned down by the chief immigration officer.
“This training is due to take place this month and will allow applications for asylum to be dealt with faster and ensure that legal standards and Cayman’s international obligations are fully respected,” the Governor’s Office statement read.
“I can also confirm that the Governor’s Office remains in close contact with Customs and Border Control (CBC) and HM Prison Service concerning the situation at the IDC.”
Delays in the asylum appeals process have long been a complaint by applicants and have been a source of correspondence between the Human Rights Commission and the Department of Immigration.
Several asylum applicants, stuck in various stages of the appeals process, have been waiting on final decisions on their cases for three years or longer.
In a letter written to Chief Immigration Officer Wesley Howell on Dec. 9, Human Rights Commission Chairman James Austin-Smith put pressure on government to provide a timeline for reforming and expediting the process.
“Given that the situation involving the arrival of migrants is an ongoing one, and that the longest staying migrants [have] now been in Cayman for over one thousand days (the majority of those in detention) without resolution of his case, the Commission would be grateful to receive definitive answers to these numbered questions, with proposed dates,” Mr. Austin-Smith wrote.
Mr. Howell responded on Dec. 19 that recommendations for appointments to the new tribunal had been made, and were expected for approval by Cabinet by January. A request for comment about these appointments has been submitted to the Office of the Premier, but a statement was not provided by press deadline.
“[Cabinet’s approval] will facilitate the Ministry organizing initial training for RPAT [Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal] members locally with the aim of more in-depth training with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) within the first quarter of 2019.…
“The Ministry continues to liaise with Cabinet Office in finalizing their policy and procedure manual. Once completed, the manual will provide guidance on the process for filing immigration appeals, including asylum matters. It is anticipated that the document will be completed by February 2019.”
Mr. Howell’s team has been working on establishing this manual since at least August 2017. Mr. Howell went on to say the ministry hoped to have the new tribunal operational by March 2019.
“However, in the interim the IAT [Immigration Appeals Tribunal] Secretariat will continue to ensure that asylum matters are given priority and dealt with thoroughly and expeditiously.”
Previous correspondence from the Human Rights Commission highlighted concerns about delays by the Immigration Appeals Tribunal.
“There are a number of cases where detainees have been waiting for a hearing before the Immigration Appeals Tribunal for extended periods, many over half a year,” Mr. Austin-Smith wrote the tribunal chairman, Buck Grizzel, in July.
“These extensive delays and the associated ongoing incarceration of asylum seekers gives rise to serious concerns both under our Constitution and our international treaty obligations.”
Detention at the Prison Service facility is intended to be temporary, yet migrants in recent years have seen detention periods surpass two years. A letter from Mr. Austin-Smith to Immigration in October states the initial detention period to be set at 90 days.
This month, prisoners from Northward Prison have also been moved to the migrant facility, where they are housed in a separate dorm, with fencing separating convicts from male and female migrants.
In August 2018, Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith wrote to Mr. Austin-Smith, “It is recognized that illegal migrants are not prisoners or convicted persons therefore not housed within the same confines as convicted persons.”
United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees detention guidelines state, “The use of prisons, jails, and facilities designed or operated as prisons or jails, should be avoided. If asylum-seekers are held in such facilities, they should be separated from the general prison population.”