Cuban asylum applicants previously detained in a Prison Service facility in George Town will now await their process in East End under a supervised release programme.
Ten Cuban migrants and one Nicaraguan were fitted with electronic ankle monitors and transported Monday evening to the Elliott Conolly Civic Centre in Gun Bay, where migrants said they will be housed until they are able to find a rental property.
A Government Information Services officer said housing migrants in residential properties will be cheaper than continuing to operate the immigration detention facility, given the low number of migrants that were being held there.
Migrants expressed relief Tuesday, that after seven months under lock and key in the Immigration Detention Centre, they will now have the right to be outdoors from 6:30am until 9pm
Continued use of the George Town facility at Fairbanks came under scrutiny earlier this year, when the immigration centre was converted, in part, to a low-security, men’s prison facility, known as the ‘Enhanced Reintegration Unit’. The first prisoners were transported to the centre in February, after government completed renovations, including installation of a dividing fence to separate prisoners from migrants.
The Prison Service at the time explained the facility had been retrofitted with the goal to “alleviate capacity constraints that have impacted Her Majesty’s Prison Northward”.
Several migrants contacted the Human Rights Commission following the changes, expressing concern that they were being held in the same conditions as prisoners and asking why some asylum applicants were on supervised release in the community, while others were in detention.
On April 12, those migrants received responses from Human Rights Commission Chairman James Austin-Smith, stating, “The Commission observes that you have not received any response from government about why some detainees have been put under supervised release while others are still detained in the Immigration Detention Centre. The Commission is in correspondence with government with respect to this part of your complaint and we will send you a response as soon as we are in conditions to do so.”
Guidelines established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees suggest detention of asylum-seekers be used only as a last resort.
“Detention is an exceptional measure and can only be justified for a legitimate purpose,” state UNHCR Detention Guidelines. “Detention can only be resorted to when it is determined to be necessary, reasonable in all the circumstances and proportionate to a legitimate purpose.”
Migrants complained that the George Town detention centre had become hostile for them. One woman at the East End civic centre said Tuesday, “It was a prison. There’s no other name for it. It’s not a detention centre. It’s a prison with treatment like prisoners and with prison officials that don’t try to understand that we are not prisoners. We’re immigrants awaiting a process.”
Three Cubans explained Tuesday that before departing the facility, they signed agreements outlining the expectations of their release.
One of them described the document to a Cayman Compass reporter. He said it stated that one infraction, such as staying outside after curfew, would result in one month in detention, a second infraction would result in six months, and a third infraction would result in permanent relocation to the detention facility.
Migrants were concerned that their ankle monitors could lose their signal or battery, resulting in an accidental infraction. One man said he was already warned Tuesday that he had violated curfew, despite having been present in the civic centre throughout the night.
To pay for food, transportation and other household items, migrants said they will each receive $160 a month. An unmarried couple said they were offered $110 each, however, and were trying to sort out the issue with officials, in order to receive the full allowance. Asylum applicants do not have the right to work during their process, which can often last for several years.
Speaking from the civic centre Tuesday, several migrants said they did not see how the allowance would permit them to travel twice a week by bus from East End to George Town to check in with immigration officials, as dictated by their release agreements. At $2 a bus trip, migrants would spend about $32 a month, or 20% of their allotment, to check in with government.
Migrants said they were also informed that the water at the civic centre was not safe to drink, so they must purchase their own water.
Questions submitted to Customs and Border Control, the Prison Service, the Human Rights Commission and East End MLA Arden McLean were not answered by press time Tuesday.
The Compass does not publish the names of asylum-seekers during their application process, given the sensitive nature of their cases.