Four more Cuban migrants were moved Tuesday evening to Gun Bay’s Elliott Conolly Civic Centre, the latest government housing option for asylum-seekers awaiting a years-long application process.
The men join a group of 10 other Cuban migrants and one Nicaraguan at the facility. All 14 Cubans at the centre have been provided with ankle monitors and must check in periodically with immigration officials as part of a supervised release programme, established last year as an alternative to detention.
Three of the men who moved to the facility Tuesday have been in the Cayman Islands for more than three years, as their asylum applications trickle through the appeals process. The Elliott Conolly Civic Centre is their latest stop in a series of housing options that government has explored during their time in Cayman.
All migrants at the East End facility were, at some point, housed in George Town’s Immigration Detention Centre. That facility, managed by the Prison Service, has been a point of contention for some time.
The detention centre was officially transformed, in part, into a low-security, men’s prison facility in February, to alleviate capacity issues at Northward Prison. A divider fence was erected to separate asylum applicants and migrants from prisoners.
While Prison Service officials had previously commented that the centre was not considered a prison, migrants complained that the facility was more like a jail to them than an immigration facility. One female detainee previously housed at the facility said, “It was a prison. There’s no other name for it. It’s not a detention centre.”
The last of the migrants held at the facility were transferred to the East End civic centre earlier this month.
While the George Town facility was intended for temporary use, in recent years, asylum applicants have found themselves detained there for months to years at a time. The long detention periods resulted in two group hunger strikes at the facility in the past year.
The first strike, in July 2018, ended in the release of nine migrants to community housing, under government supervision. The four men transferred to East End on Tuesday were part of that group and had previously been housed in a rental property in Newlands, paid for by government.
The men say they had trouble with their rental, however, and were forced to relocate to the civic centre.
Several other asylum applicants continue to be housed in private homes. Meanwhile, those staying at the civic centre say they were advised to search for rental housing and that government will provide up to $750 monthly per person for payment.
One man said it has been difficult to find a rental property, however, because owners are hesitant to rent to government, and have expressed concern about receiving late payments.
Customs and Border Patrol and the Prison Service have not responded to requests for comment from the Cayman Compass.
The Compass does not publish the names of asylum-seekers during their application process, given the sensitive nature of their cases.