Cayman Net News Online
Cubans entering the Cayman Islands illegally without documents are to be treated under a new set of guidelines recently issued by Cabinet, which have already run into criticism on Cayman Brac, where the majority of migrants arrive.
Under the guidelines, passed on Tuesday, 11 January, migrants encountered in Cayman’s territorial waters or who come ashore on any of the three Islands will be refused permission to land and will no longer be given assistance to enable them to continue their journey.
Those able to depart immediately and wishing to do so will be allowed to leave. Otherwise they will be detained and repatriated to Cuba as allowed by the 1999 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with that country, unless they are determined to be refugees under the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees.
Brac resident James Tibbetts says he feels as though the Islands are making a huge mistake.
He said the migrants would basically be given the choice of continuing their journey hungry, tired and thirsty, or getting a good meal and be repatriated.
He believes that the UK should help the Cayman Islands to deal with this situation by supplying the Islands with a couple of patrol boats.
These vessels would police the waters between here and Cuba and, if they find migrants at sea, they should return them, as the US Coastguard does. If they get this far, and can continue their journey, he feels it is inhumane to send them back.
Only officers trained to handle illegal migrants should be in charge of the arrival and departure of the Cubans, he said, and thought that they should be given the proper time to make repairs and wait until the weather is favourable. Local charities, churches and individuals should be allowed to help them and, above all, they should be treated humanely, said Mr. Tibbetts.
The problem, he said, is the US wet foot dry foot policy, by which most Cubans, unlike economic migrants from other countries, are allowed to stay if they reach dry land. Mr. Tibbetts says this policy will continue to encourage Cubans to try desperate measures to reach the US.
“There’s no question that this is a complicated issue,” he said, but pointed out that the migrants come from a communist country and asks why their case is treated differently from people escaping from Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
“Imagine if a country had turned those people back,” he said. He questions the term “economic migrant”. He says the Cubans are not considered a political threat so long as they don’t complain that they don’t have enough to eat or enough electricity or enough water, but complaints in that communist country are dealt with as political activism.
US sanctions are “enabling Castro to stay in power because he can blame everything on the US,” added Mr. Tibbetts.
According to a GIS press release, the new policy came into effect Wednesday, 12 January, and replaces the more lenient procedures that were adopted last year by government but which were subject to its ongoing review.
The preamble to the new guidelines, which have been released to the media for publication, give the reason for the change of policy: “As a result of increased migration of Cuban nationals through the Cayman Islands and reported incidents of violent methods used to commandeer vessels to transport Cuban migrants to the Cayman Islands, the Cayman Islands Government, in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Cayman Islands and the Government of the Republic of Cuba will return all Cuban migrants to Cuba who illegally enter the Cayman Islands.”
Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson explained that the number of Cubans arriving here had increased steadily during 2004, reaching a total of over 300 for the year.
The guidelines have provision for rendering humanitarian aid if necessary: “Should a vessel carrying Cuban migrants become disabled or in distress, every effort must be made to prevent loss of life. In these circumstances any Cuban rescued will be repatriated in accordance with this policy and the MOU.” Cuban migrants will not be permitted “to either acquire additional or alternative crafts; or arrange or accept transport by alternative means.”
Cubans being repatriated however will get accommodation, food and water, clothing, phone calls and regular information about their repatriation.
Mr. Manderson noted the British High Commission in Havana would be informed of the policy and their assistance sought in spreading the word among would-be migrants.
UNHCR definition of a refugee:
According to the 1951 Convention, a refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…”
The CI Government refers to Cuban migrants who pass through Cayman as economic migrants. UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) distinguishes these from refugees as follows: An economic migrant normally leaves a country voluntarily to seek a better life. Should he or she elect to return home, they would continue to receive the protection of their government. Refugees flee because of the threat of persecution and cannot return safely to their homes in the prevailing circumstances.