While Cayman’s next government may be a couple of months out from taking office, the Human Rights Commission has called for prospective leaders to make resolving a gap in immigration legislation for asylum seekers a top priority.

For more than two weeks, Cuban couple Javier Freites and his wife, Erica Alvarez-Freites have been protesting outside the Government Administration Building seeking changes to the Customs and Border Control Act, 2018 to allow spouses of asylum seekers to work in Cayman.

Under the law, there is no provision to regularise the residency and employment status of Freites’ expatriate spouse and “this ongoing sensitive matter has identified a gap within the Customs and Border Control Act, 2018”, the HRC pointed out in a statement addressing the issue released Thursday evening.

The Commission says there is a conflict between this legislation gap and both the right to private and family life as enshrined in Cayman’s constitution and the UN’s convention related to the status of refugees.

“Due to the sensitive nature and the alleged breach of human rights in this regard the Commission continues to advocate for the urgent remedying of this matter to remain a top priority particularly for the incoming Government, so that no one residing in these beauteous Cayman Isles are disenfranchised in any respect,” the commission said in its statement.

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Javier Freites and his wife Erica Alvarez-Freites have been protesting outside Government Administration Building. – Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

The HRC said it was aware of the “general concern and public interest” in relation to the matter of the Cuban refugees who have been actively and peacefully protesting.

However, it said it has been working in the background to seek a sound resolution to address this matter.

“The Commission has been in correspondence with the Ministry of Employment and Border Control… since 2019 and upon identifying the inability to add spouses to asylum approvals which is in accordance with s.113 of the Customs and Border Control Act, 2018, the Commission has expressed recommendations to consider a prima facie conflict between the Act and s.9 of the Constitution – Right to Private and Family Life, as well as the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Cayman is a signatory,” it said.

The commission added that “asylum grantees are required to be treated equally to nationals, and therefore spouses should be able to apply for Residency and Employment Rights Certificate”‘

The ministry, the commission said, has indicated that work is currently being undertaken to amend the law to address these concerns.

However, with early elections triggered, there will be no quick resolution for the impacted Cubans, as Parliament has been dissolved halting any potential legislative changes until after a new government takes over.

Earlier this month, in response to queries from the Cayman Compass, Customs and Border Control, which falls under Premier Alden McLaughlin’s portfolio, said in a statement that the option to obtain employment through a work permit exists for Alvarez-Freites.

However, “the Government is also actively considering alternate options under the current legal framework that would facilitate her request to remain and work in the country with her family”, the statement said.

CBC stated that as with other persons who are seeking, or who have been granted, asylum, the government continues to provide financial support in the form of rental and utilities assistance and, in some cases, food vouchers as well, and the couple continues to benefit from that programme.

The Compass has reached out to McLaughlin and the CBC for an update on Alvarez-Freites’s status, and is awaiting replies.

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