(CNS): The government has confirmed that it is overturning the policy of detaining all Cuban migrants who chose to land in local waters, regardless of their status, and the Department of Immigration (DOI) has determined that some detainees will be released from the detention facility pending the results of their legal matters. Given the length of time it is taking to finalise the immigration statuses for some Cubans migrants, on Friday three of them were released from the Immigration Detention Centre to approved accommodation provided by the DOI.
Officials said that a risk assessment was conducted on the detainees and they have also been fitted with electronic tags.
“Although the detainees do not pose a threat to the community, in an effort to ensure public safety as a top priority, the detainees will be fitted with an electronic monitoring device, which we will use to observe their whereabouts and verify that they are complying with the rules of their release,” said Acting Chief Immigration Officer Gary Wong.
The three individuals released from the facility have all been there for more than two years — the longest time among the thirteen detainees currently at the IDC.
The announcement about this first group to be released follows a visit by the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission to the facility last week as a result of a hunger strike by a group of Cuban men, which has now ended. After the visit, HRC Chair James Austin-Smith wrote to the heads of both the prison service and immigration questioning the blanket detention of Cuban migrants. He listed a catalog of other issues, including unsanitary and filthy conditions at the centre where the people were being held.
The Cayman government treats all Cubans that end up in Cayman waters as economic migrants unless they apply for political asylum. The government policy is to detain them, and subsequently repatriate them under the terms of the memorandum of understanding with Havana, if they need assistance. But if they can continue with their journey without assistance, they are permitted to do so.
A number of Cubans currently in the Cayman Islands, some of whom have now been in dentition for more than two years, have applied for asylum, claiming that they are members of the unofficial opposition Cuban National Party (PNC). If they were given asylum here, this would make them political refugees in Cayman but with no rights to travel to the United States.
Until January 2017, when it was ended by Obama, the long-standing ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy of the US, gave any Cuban migrant that reaches US soil the right to remain indefinitely.
The prolonged detention of these asylum seekers (in some cases over two years) by the Cayman Islands authorities has raised questions about the treatment of possible political refugees. In the letter the HRC queried the policy of detention, which the government had recently accepted needed to be reviewed.
“The commission has previously expressed concerns regarding the government’s policy to detain every illegal migrant at the Centre without consideration of their individual circumstances and the risk that they pose,” Austin-Smith wrote as he asked for an explanation for their detention. “Can you please provide the Commission with an explanation for this blanket policy and clarify why consideration has not been given to assessing each detainee to determine the necessity for detention in accordance with the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees?”
In response, the first three migrants have now been released. Last week government admitted that it was considering what options are available to deal with Cuban migrants, especially those claiming asylum. In a statement immigration authorities had said, “Given the inordinate delay in finalising the detainees’ immigration status, the acting chief immigration officer has agreed to review the continued detention of the migrants.”
As well as pressing the authorities about the unjustified blanket detention of the Cubans, the HRC revealed that they do not have access to news and online media and questioned why their phones are confiscated.
“There is no access to cellular telephones and whilst at the facility the Commission observed one being confiscated from a detainee. Can you please provide the Commission with reason for detainees being unable to possess cellular telephones?” Smith asked.
He also asked why detainees have no access to news or media, whether in print form or via the internet, in Spanish. The commission said it had begun to explore creating a library at the IDC, but called on the authorities to provide detainees with access to news in their own language.
The HRC said there was no evidence of a sprinkler system and some of the bathrooms and toilets are dirty, mouldy, unhygienic and broken, noting the “completely unhygienic fridges, freezers and cooking areas, including rotten food with infestation of flies”.
It appears that the detainees are provided with cleaning materials and expected to clean the centre themselves. While the commission said it spoke with the detainees during the visit about doing their part, “the extensive nature of the unsanitary conditions” means that the government “must take steps to rectify this situation before the facility becomes uninhabitable and a further health risk”.
Prison Director Steve Barrett told the HRC in response to their concerns that he was engaging local contractors to ensure repairs were undertaken and that the bathroom and kitchen areas would be deep cleaned.
He said that in future the prison team would ensure that the detainees were taking care of and cleaning the areas they use. Barrett said that fixed line phones were provided and that cell phones were taken from the detainees for security purposes, and that he was looking into acquiring a Spanish language TV channel for the migrants.
However, Barrett said he was no able to comment on the policy of blanket detention as it was not within his remit.
Category: Local News