The number of migrants poses a growing challenge

  • Cayman Information Service

(CNS): Over the past week, another 39 Cuban migrants have arrived in the Cayman Islands, including seventeen people who were rescued at sea by the Caribbean legend, a freighter heading for Grand Cayman. The sixteen men and one woman arrived safely at the Port of George Town on Sunday morning. They join more than 300 other migrants being processed by Customs and Border Control (CBC), adding to an increasingly costly challenge.

Since Thursday, another 22 Cuban migrants have arrived in Cayman Brac waters aboard four different unseaworthy boats.

On Friday, CBC said the increase in the number of Cuban migrants in recent weeks has raised challenges for the CBC and raised public concern. There are now around 325 men and women under the supervision of CBC, including around 100 on the Brac, all of whom need appropriate accommodation and support. The cost of migrant security, maintenance and detention for the period from January to September this year was nearly $1.3 million.

The delays in obtaining authorization for repatriation from the Cuban government and the duration of the asylum application and the appeal procedure are proving increasingly costly.

Border Control Minister Chris Saunders said the government was seeking to meet with representatives of Cuba and understood the concerns raised by members of the public about the recent increase in Cuban migrant arrivals as well as the costs and the delays involved.

“The government also has concerns about the practicalities and the costs involved,” he said in a press release about the rise in numbers. “However, we must understand that the repatriation process is not a process over which the Cayman Islands government authorities have complete control. The Cayman Islands has obligations under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Conventions with respect to refugees and asylum seekers. Every migrant has the right to apply for asylum and the right to appeal if the application is rejected.

“Only once this process is complete can we begin the repatriation process, and the timing of their return to Cuba also depends on the response of the Cuban government,” he explained.

Saunders also pointed out that in addition to legal obligations, human considerations are necessary. “CBC is inundated with requests from people in Cuba seeking information about loved ones who have embarked on the dangerous journey,” he revealed. “As human beings, our thoughts are with both those worried about their loved ones and those desperate enough to make this journey.”

But he added that as a small country, Cayman could not absorb all the arrivals due to limited resources. “This is a complex problem, which is not easy to remedy,” said the minister. This year, approximately 221,000 Cubans have arrived in the United States through the Mexican border as economic challenges drive Cubans to seek new opportunities.

“We are all aware of the economic challenges in Cuba that often cause people looking for a better life to leave their country,” Saunders said. “These factors have been further compounded by current global forces, including the war in Ukraine, which would mean less aid from Russia’s longtime ally and trading partner. Combined with the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing international sanctions against Cuba, all of this has led to a deepening of the economic crisis in the country and in turn to migration massive.

The main local challenge caused by the recent influx of Cuban migrants is the provision of adequate housing. Migrants are currently placed in separate accommodation around Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. The long-term goal is to house all migrants in one facility. The Minister explained that as a result, CBC and its Ministerial team met with the Public Works Department (PWD) to discuss repairs and improvements to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC).

When the repairs and improvements are completed, the IDC will be able to provide safe accommodation to all irregular migrants until the asylum process is complete.

All Cuban migrants currently in the Cayman Islands have applied for asylum. Only 14 have exhausted their asylum application procedure or withdrawn their application and are waiting to be repatriated to Cuba. So far this year, only four migrants have been flown back to Cuba on two flights, one last week and one in July.

A dedicated team within CBC is specifically responsible for dealing with asylum and irregular migration issues and is currently processing migrants and their asylum applications. The overall goal is to streamline the assessment process and return unqualified candidates to their home country as quickly as possible.

Saunders said the government was also tackling the issue from a diplomatic perspective. “While we are doing everything we can on the ground to speed things up, we are also maintaining dialogue and cooperation with the Cuban government,” he said. “Given the increase in arrivals to the Cayman Islands and knowing that the situation could worsen, we will meet with Cuban government officials before the end of the year to determine the way forward.”

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