The arrival of two illegal migrants in a boat off The Brac on Monday has opened up a floodgate of questions that need to be addressed in the event that this might signal a possible wave of refugees seeking safe harbour in Cayman.
It may not be as far-fetched as it first appears.
Cayman is not only seen as an economic safe harbour but a COVID-19 safe haven - considering the scale of the crisis in some nearby countries compared to the challenges the jurisdiction in now facing.
The migrants are said to be Cubans. It’s not the first time that Cayman has had to address the issue of Cubans refugees arriving in our waters. That this has happened just days ahead of the official partial opening of the borders is just coincidental as far as we could tell.
What it does is throw up is the issue of border security and the practicalities of managing this particular arrival which has been made even more complicated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under normal conditions this would be a challenging prospect. But now, with conditions being anything but normal the implications for public health and border security are many and varied.
The new arrivals system comes into play this Thursday October 1st with the partial reopening of the borders replete with screening, tracing and quarantining protocols.
Just how robust it is will be put to the ultimate test if Cayman has to deal with an influx in illegal migrants, where screening, isolating, ‘geo-fencing’, security and upkeep pending outcome of complex immigration processing will come at a cost beyond the financial.
One hopes that such a scenario was factored into the planning and trial runs of the new arrivals system as how Cayman handles this situation might be a test run for what could possibly come. It might not. But preparedness precludes response.
It appears to have been proven that the two migrants are Cubans. Whether they came from Cuba or via a third country are other issues is another issue.
Assuming that they came from Cuba raises questions about why they left and conditions in Cuba.
The country’s economy, struggling to hold on to the hopes ushered in by the Obama-era relaxation of US sanctions, has been dealt a devastating blow by the Donald Trump administration’s relentless unravelling of almost anything that bears an Obama imprint.
And with its economy diving back into the doldrums, Cuba once credited for how it was tacking the COVID-19 outbreak is now faced with seeing those early strides unravelling under the economic strain.
Reports from Cuba suggest that the younger generation who had begun to get a taste of economic freedom are not prepared to suffer the privations of their parents.
And with the tourism industry literally on hold, especially the cruise sector which was an economic lifeline for Cuba, and the country’s borders still closed, an escape valve could be taking to high seas once more in search of, well, hope.
Some see that hope in Cayman, where there’s already an established Cuban community and where the challenges are no where near the scale of what’s confronting Cuba.
The government here has been repeatedly credited for its handling of the public health aspect of the pandemic and it has taken credit for its management of the economy which has allowed Cayman to so far cushion the impact of the economic fall out.
But the longer the crisis lasts, the bigger is the looming economic challenge becomes.
An extensive repatriation programme has successfully seen many non-nationals returned to the home countries and overseas-based Caymanians returned home - generally at their own expense.
That repatriation plan might now need another chapter in the likelihood of what might be on the horizon. Trickles do lead to floods.
With the phased reopening of the borders, Cayman is looking at attracting initially less than a thousand high-end, long-stay visitors and eventually launch its version of the new trend of the global remote-worker scheme.
Even those are being planned under strictly managed COVID-19 protocols.
How Cayman prepares for any influx of refugees could very well be its next test given reports coming not just from Cuba but also from Honduras; places where Cayman has had historical social contact.
Might it be so that the much-debated regiment might find its first deployment in maritime border security?
In that case, the remit of the Turks and Caicos Islands, just one of three other overseas territories with a regiment, might prove instructive.
Given their challenges with the influx of illegal Haitian migrants regularly turning up in sloops, TCI has mandated its regiment with supporting that jurisdiction’s Maritime Police along with its other primary role of disaster relief.