Migrant policy under review as budget set to rise

| 18/05/2022 | 11 Comments
Cuban vessel Thursday morning with seven on board (photo courtesy of the CBC)

(CNS): The Customs and Border Control Service (CBC) has warned that if the current increase in Cuban migrant arrivals continues, it will need more money to cover the costs of managing them as it has already spent $450,000 so far this year and only has around $300,000 left from the funds allotted for 2022. In another press release about the high levels of “irregular migration” to Cayman by Cubans, the CBC said there were serious implications for Cayman, including national security issues, and that the current policy for dealing with migrants was under review.

Over the last four decades, Cubans have arrived in the Cayman Islands, sometimes in a trickle and at other times in a flood. However, few of them want to stay here; most are trying to get to Central America and then make their way by land to the United States, thus avoiding the US Coast Guard, which generally repatriates them promptly. This was especially true between 1995 and January 2017, when the US ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy was in place, which said that any Cubans who set foot in the US were guaranteed asylum but if they were picked up at sea, they were taken back to Cuba.

The recent surge in Cubans trying to enter the US by crossing the border with Mexico is in part a result of Nicaragua dropping transit visa requirements for Cuban nationals last November, though these have since been tightened again. There are also the long-standing causes of political repression in Cuba and a crumbling economy, made worse by the pandemic, which curtailed tourism, global inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and tougher sanctions implemented by the previous US administration.

According to US Customs and Border Protection data, nearly 80,000 Cubans reached the US border from Mexico from October through March. However, the US has difficulty repatriating Cubans because of poor relations with the Cuban Government, which sees an advantage in getting rid of people it sees as potential troublemakers.

The CBC anticipates that Cuban migration to both the US and Cayman will continue to increase, blaming “changes in US immigration policies”.

The most serious influx of Cuban migrants to the Cayman Islands occurred between 1993 and 1995, when more than 2,000 Cubans passed through these islands, most of them landing on Cayman Brac first. Over 1,100 were interned for up to a year in a refugee camp on Grand Cayman, which came to be known as “Tent City”. Since then, Cayman authorities have been keen not to repeat the stress this placed on local resources.

In an apparent reference to Tent City, CBC Director Charles Clifford said in the release, “The Cayman Islands experienced a mass migration crisis in 1994, with the arrival of approximately 1,100 Cuban migrants in a relatively short period. With the increasing number of irregular Cuban migrants arriving on our shores now, the situation has the potential to overwhelm our services which could potentially create national security challenges.”

Revealing more about the new Memorandum of Understanding that the governments of the Cayman Islands and Cuba signed in mid-April 2015, which lays out with the repatriation process, he said that it “introduced agreed timelines for the exchange of information between the two governments that will shorten the length of time between the arrival and repatriation of Cuban migrants”.

Clifford noted that the less time the migrants are here, the less they cost the Cayman Islands. However, he said that the repatriation process can be drawn out by delays in receiving authorisation for repatriation from Cuba, as well as delays in the asylum appeals process.

YearTotal Spent
2022Approximately $450,000.00

The total budget for Cuban migrants this year was $758,000 but around 60% has been spent in the first four and a half months, and the CBC said that if the current trend of arrivals continues, the 2022 budget will need a top-up, though the release did not indicate how much.

The cost of maintaining each migrant is approximately CI$100 to $150 per day, which includes food, housing, medical costs, security and other miscellaneous costs, but this can be more in special cases, such as housing families, children and pregnant women or if exceptional security measures are required, the CBC said.

The Customs and Border Control Act sets out the provisions for managing the asylum process, including the initial application process, refugee protection protocols, appeals and refugee offences. These provisions are in keeping with Cayman’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention to provide protection to persons fleeing persecution.

“In line with our Constitutional obligations and in accordance with the International Convention on the Treatment of Refugees, the migrants are afforded food vouchers and are allowed to purchase their food, which is more cost-effective than sourcing daily meals from restaurants,” Clifford said.

Over the years costs have fluctuated and even though no migrants arrived in 2020, the number of Cubans already here at the time of lockdown cost over $1.3 million, since Cuba would not accept them back during the pandemic.

“The Mass Migration Committee continues to meet and monitor the situation as it has serious financial, operational and infrastructural implications; therefore the policies for handling irregular migrants are currently under review,” the CBC stated without giving any indication as to what changes to the policies are being considered.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Charity says:

    Cayman government need to budget for Caymanian Refugees (elderly, disabled, and poor)

  2. Anonymous says:

    How the hell have we spent so much in 5 months on a handful of migrants?

  3. Anonymous says:

    The spendings must be heavily monitored for it represent opportunity for corruption.

    If I am not mistaken, lots of money was paid in the past for deliveries of all kinds things, including pizzas, to the detention center.

    I remember raising eyebrows reading about things purchased, services provided.

  4. _||) says:

    If Cuba wants them back so bad, Cuba should pay our costs!

    Wtf they gonna do to us? Initiate war with a UK territory because we gave refugees some bullas and sent them on??

    CNS: Cuba doesn’t want them back.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Issue the permits to work in the tourist industry, and then put them on the stipend. Lots of money there.

  6. watcher says:

    Give them food, water, fuel and prayers and send them on their way. Cheapest solution for the Cayman Islands, and it is what the Cubans want also, because it is their best chance.

    • Anonymous says:

      For the amount we spend we could give them actual seaworthy boats so they can continue…

      • Anonymous says:

        Sounds great, til word gets back to Cuba and the rest follow!

      • Anonymous says:

        We would not be able to handle our own version of the Mariel Boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans flooded Miami in 1980. We struggle to keep the airport parking machines working. Can’t feed our own, with prison/courts full and RCIPS on perma-break.

      • Anonymous says:

        I like it. Buy a boat mold and crank out a couple dozen boats. Stock them and get them ready to sail. Save millions of dollars, and know that you’ve enhanced another economy downstream, when they find and repurpose the boats.

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