Nearly seven weeks after opening the East End Civic Centre to Cuban migrants, government has provided details about its housing plan for the Gun Bay facility.

Fourteen Cuban asylum applicants are currently living in the facility under a supervised release programme, created as an alternative to migrant detention by the Prison Service.

Twenty-three migrants in total are under the care of Customs and Border Control and the Prison Service. Twenty-one of those are on community release and living in approved housing, including rental properties and the civic centre.

George Town IDC reopens to migrants

Two men who arrived by boat outside Wyndham Reef Resort on 6 June are being housed at the Prison Service’s Immigration Detention Centre in George Town.

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“The move to house some migrants outside [the Immigration Detention Centre] was in keeping with international guidelines to provide alternatives to the detention of migrants wherever possible,” a Government Information Services statement reads.

Use of the civic centre is considered a less-costly option than the detention centre, where Prison Service employees earn overtime pay to guard the facility.

In the 2018 budget year, government said it cost $1.6 million to operate the detention centre. Costs for 2019 were on track to greatly surpass that number, despite the reduction in migrants being housed at the facility.

“By the end of May 2019, the year-to-date figure was already in excess of $1.4 million,” government states.

Further details about the elevated costs were not provided.

For a period of six weeks this year, the immigration detention area of the facility was closed, according to government. Since February, however, the centre has also housed overflow, low-risk inmates from Northward Prison. Fencing divides prisoners at the facility from migrants.

The two migrants who arrived on 6 June are currently at the detention facility. They are reported to be in good condition. They told two tourists who encountered them on the beach after their arrival that they had been at sea for 21 days.

“Upon arrival, the two migrants were met by [Customs and Border Control] officers and later processed. Both men appear to be in good physical condition and good spirits; and have access to weekly medical visits by doctors from the Health Services Authority, at [the Immigration Detention Centre],” government states. “They have been questioned by CBC officers and a review of their status is being undertaken at this time.”

Supervised release

The civic centre in East End is only considered a short-term housing option, according to government. Migrants currently living there have been advised to seek out longer-term accommodations at rental properties.

“The centres are a short term solution that is used as an alternative to detention until more long term arrangements can be made for the migrants,” according to a joint statement from Customs and the Prison Service.

“Officials continue to work to not only provide adequate housing for those entrusted to their care, but also to ensure such arrangements are appropriate and fair to all. In cases where children are involved, they, and if applicable their parents, are housed outside of detention.”

In the event of a hurricane or major disaster, government plans to move the migrants out of the civic centre to create space for community members.

“We would work to ensure that any occupied civic centres that act as certified shelters for the community are immediately available to serve them. The migrants would not occupy such a space during the time in which it’s needed. There are a number of considerations that have been discussed regarding this, and solutions, such as the use of other public buildings, are in place if this should occur,” according to the statement.

Asylum applicants under supervised release must adhere to a number of conditions established by government. Migrants who violate these conditions risk being returned to the detention centre.

Conditions of supervised release include: abiding by Cayman Islands laws, observing curfew hours between 9pm and 6am, wearing an electronic monitoring device, and refraining from employment.

“Migrants who do not abide by these conditions, may be returned to the [Immigration Detention Centre] for a reasonable period of time or until the individual is repatriated or granted asylum as the case may be,” government states.

One migrant, for example, was recently returned to the detention centre after he declined to sign a form agreeing to government’s terms, stating that he did not fully understand the document. The man has since signed the form and been released to community housing.

Government added that the civic centre is “a publicly owned property. Its facilities, including space for beds, bathrooms, as well as areas for cooking and exercise, allow the Government to temporarily provide for the basic needs of the migrants without having them remain in a detention setting”.

Appeals process

Cuban asylum applicants have expressed confusion about the status of their cases in recent months, as government reforms its appeals process.

Migrants had previously appeared before the Immigration Appeals Tribunal to challenge rejected applications. Government is now in the process, however, of establishing a dedicated tribunal for asylum matters, called the Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal.

While some appellants have been told their cases will continue forwards under the old system, others say they expect their cases to proceed under the new one.

Under the new Customs and Border Control law, the date an appeal was made should dictate which body oversees the process.

“The Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal was appointed by Cabinet, with effect from 27 February 2019. Yet the Customs and Border Control Law, which empowers the Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal, states that appeals filed before 1 February 2019 will be dealt with as if the Law is not in effect. As such those matters continue to be dealt with by the Immigration Appeals Tribunal,” according to a joint Customs and Prison Service statement.

In a 10 May ruling, the Grand Court found the Immigration Appeals Tribunal had not properly considered asylum cases and had committed errors that amounted to miscarriages of justice.

The seven men involved in that case have been told their appeals will now be heard by the Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal. Several applicants involved in the case have been in the Cayman Islands for more than three years. All of them made their appeals before 1 Feb. 2019.

Government did not provide an estimate on when the new tribunal will start seeing migrant cases.

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