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The United States is seeing the highest levels of irregular Cuban migration since the 1980 Mariel Boatlift with migrants crossing the U.S southern land border instead of arriving by sea. The Washington Post[1], stated that in March of 2022 some 32,000 Cubans were taken into custody along the USA - Mexico border. Many of these migrants arrived at the US/Mexico border via other Central American countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua.

The Cayman Islands are also experiencing some of the highest levels of irregular migration in recent history, with 173 Cuban migrants currently within the Cayman Islands and being managed by the Customs and Border Control Service (CBC) and the Mass Migration Committee.

“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,” said CBC Director Charles Clifford.

In April 2015, the Cayman Islands Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of the Republic of Cuba on matters relating to migration. The new Memorandum 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. As well as ensuring that migrants are able to return to their families without undue delay, the shorter turnaround times will reduce the costs involved in accommodating migrants over a longer period. However, the repatriation process is sometimes delayed because of legal challenges and over the past two years Cuba’s border was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuba has recently reopened their border.

In 2021, the Cayman Islands Government spent $946,097.06 on the management of Cuban migrants. For the first and second quarter of 2022, approximately $450,000 has been spent to date on this issue. If the current trend of arrivals continue, supplementary funding will need to be approved to buttress the 2022 budgeted appropriation of $758,000.

The cost of maintaining each migrant is approximately CI$100 to $150 per day, which is inclusive of food, housing, medical costs, security and other miscellaneous costs. Historically, the following amounts have been spent on irregular migrants annually:

Year

Total Spent

2019

1,554,608.89

2020

1,356,531.82

2021

946,097.06

2022

Approximately 450,000.00

 

Various factors contribute to the extremely high costs associated with the custody, care, and repatriation of irregular migrants, including delays in receiving authorisation for repatriation from the Government of Cuba, delays in the appeals process, and the provision of special accommodation needs (for example for families, children and pregnant women), and exceptional security measures.

The Customs and Border Control Act (2022 Revision) sets out in section 111 through section 117 the provisions for managing the asylum process, including the initial application process, refugee protection protocols, , appeals to the Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal (RPAT) and refugee offences. These provisions are in keeping with our obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention to provide protection to persons fleeing persecution[2].

“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,” said the CBC Director.

Based on changes in US immigration policies it is expected that the current upward trend in irregular migrant arrivals will continue, and thus, the Cayman Islands can also expect to see additional irregular migrants arrive on our shores as well. 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.



[1] Armario, C. and Miroff, N. (2022) Cubans arriving in record numbers along Mexico border, Washington Post, 7 April 2022. Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/04/07/cuba-migration-border-miami/

 

[2] The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was ratified by the United Kingdom on 11 March 1954 and extended to the Cayman Islands via Jamaica on 25 October 1956. The Protocol was extended to the Cayman Islands upon ratification by the United Kingdom on 4 September 1968.