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Law will stem flow of Cuban migrants

Front Pages 27 Dec, 2022 Follow News

Desperate Cubans use flimsy boats

Cayman Coast Guards are extremely busy

The Cayman Islands Government is about to pass legislation to make asylum claims more difficult for irregular migrants and speed up the slow and expensive process.

Diplomatic talks were held in early December between the Cayman Islands Government and a delegation from Cuba to discuss the alarming increase of migrants landing on Cayman shores. The talks included strategies aiming for greater search and rescue coordination to save lives, shortening the time it takes to return migrants to Cuba and targeting of human smugglers for prosecution.

Soon after, the Cayman Islands Coast Guard Operation’s & Rescue Coordination Centre received a call on 14 December from the MV Hellespont Pride ship reporting that they found eight Cuban nationals adrift around 35 miles south of mainland Cuba.

Cayman coast guards contacted the Cuban Border Guard who picked up their compatriots from MV Hellespont Pride 13 miles from Port of Santiago de Cuba and were returned to Cuba.

Chris Saunders, the Border Control Minister, brought an amendment bill to parliament on 19 December. He said the number of Cubans now arriving was creating a crisis, and changes to the law could reduce the time they remain here and deter others from coming.

The cost of accommodating and repatriating Cuban asylum seekers may be as much as $3 million this year. Amending the legislation will expedite the processing of their applications.

Saunders said: “We are in the midst of a crisis, with serious economic and security implications,” noting that there are currently more than 350 migrants in immigration, which takes on average nine months to process. “The significant increase in arrivals is putting a severe strain on the Customs and Border Control Agency, both in Grand Cayman and in Cayman Brac.”

The spike in arrivals this year is compounded by all migrants now claiming asylum. Saunders said it takes more than nine months to fully process, despite the memorandum of understanding with Cuba which was designed to cut down the time migrants stay before being repatriated. The amendments to the Customs and Border Control Act, he said, are designed to streamline the asylum process while still adhering to international obligations.

“It is imperative that we shorten the average length of stay,” he said. “The magnitude of the financial burden is directly related to the length of time that a migrant remains in the Cayman Islands.

“Almost all migrants arriving in the Cayman Islands exercise the ability to apply for asylum and the right of appeal,” he said.

He said that it costs $1,300 per month for each migrant and an average total of $11,700 from arrival to departure, which does not include the cost of repatriation.

Saunders said that as the economic situation in Cuba deteriorates, since April, 360 undocumented migrants have landed in Cayman, 100 of them in October alone, and arrivals continue as seven more men arrived in Cayman Brac as he was presenting the bill.

Expressing his support for the bill, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson explained why the Cayman Islands could not just give the migrants food and water, fix their boats and send them on their way, as some people in the community have suggested. He said they would be running the risk of “being branded as a country of being supportive of illegal immigration because that’s what we would be doing -  and we certainly wouldn’t want anyone doing that to us”.

Manderson also noted safety concerns in sending people on rickety boats out to sea, which was “putting persons’ lives in jeopardy”. He said that Cayman was mindful of its international obligations and doing “the responsible thing”.


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