(CMR) Over the last three years, the Cayman Islands Government has spent over $4 million on irregular migrants, and if the current arrival trend of Cuban migrants continues, the 2022 budget could be surpassed.
The Cayman Islands is experiencing some of the highest levels of irregular migration in recent history, with 173 Cuban migrants currently within the Cayman Islands, being managed by the Customs and Border Control Service (CBC) and the Mass Migration Committee.
According to the CBC, in 2019, $1,554,608.89 was spent on migrants while in 2020, $1,356,531.82 was spent. In 2021, the Cayman Islands Government spent $946,097.06 on the management of Cuban migrants. For the first and second quarters of 2022, approximately $450,000 has been spent to date.
If the current trend of arrivals continues, supplementary funding will need to be approved to bolster 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 expenses, security, and other miscellaneous costs, CBC reported.
The influx of Cuban migrants is also being seen in the United States. The US has seen the highest levels of irregular Cuban migration since the 1980s. According to The Washington Post, 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.
Based on changes in US immigration policies, it is expected that the current upward trend in irregular migrant arrivals will continue. Thus, the Cayman Islands can also expect to see additional irregular migrant arrivals.
The Mass Migration Committee continues to meet and monitor the situation, which has serious financial, operational, and infrastructural implications; therefore, the policies for handling irregular migrants are currently under review.
“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 exchanging information between the two Governments that will shorten the length of time between the arrival and repatriation of Cuban migrants.
The shorter turnaround times will reduce the costs of accommodating migrants over a more extended 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.
Various factors contribute to the extremely high costs associated with the custody, care, and repatriation of irregular migrants, including delays in receiving authorization 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 sections 111 through section 117 the provisions for managing the asylum process, including the initial application process, refugee protection protocols, and appeals to the Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal (RPAT), and refugee offenses.
These provisions are in keeping with our obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention to protect 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,” said the CBC Director.