September 25, 2020

Cayman Islands Premier at UN Refugee meeting

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IMG_7305GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands – Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin helped kick off the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Caribbean Region Pre-Ministerial Meeting on Mixed Migration and Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons at the Westin on Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman Wednesday morning. The meeting continues until Thursday. The pre-meeting will help set the agenda for the December meeting in Brazil commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees.

Keynote speech to the Pre-Ministerial meeting

By Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin, MBE, JP, MLA

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

9 a.m., 10 September, 2014

Westin Grand Cayman, Governor’s Ballroom B

Let me begin by telling you how honoured I am to welcome you to the Cayman Islands for this important pre-ministerial meeting of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The issue of refugees is as old as time. In his September 1963 speech to the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, Mr. Felix Schnyder of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said, and I quote, “Of all the various types of evil which man inflicts on man, the suffering of refugees beset by persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinion has, throughout history, been among the most cruel and persistent. …Down through mediaeval and subsequent times, the alternation of persecution and flight has remained one of the most painful and apparently irreducible hallmarks of human behaviour, reaching the most monumental and tragic scale in our own 20th Century”.

So, we are in fact dealing with a legacy handed down to us through generations. Today we are seeing the plight of refugees and asylum seekers the world over, from the crises in the Middle East and Africa, and even closer to home, in Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

I am sure that the 13 Caribbean states represented here know all too well the challenges we all face in regards to refugees and asylum seekers.

Like many of you, the Cayman Islands struggles to keep pace with staffing and other resources necessary for dealing with illegal migrants and refugees.

But we have to remember at all times that international law defines a refugee as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to their country because of well-founded fear or persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group.

We have had our own share of refugees who have sought, and received, asylum.

The Cayman Islands prides itself on being a progressive nation and a good citizen of the global community in which we play an important role. But before we became the Cayman that we are today, our people plied the oceans to make a living. So we understand full well the dangers that exist on the open ocean. Indeed, many of our seamen have perished at sea. It is natural; therefore, for us to join the leading nations of the world in the recognition of our responsibility to promote and protect human rights and, indeed, to protect life. The issue of refugees thus bears significant local relevance and presents us with an opportunity to embrace the spirit and values of the human rights treaties that have been extended to our Islands. And this we have done.

But as this body will no doubt fully understand, the challenge faced by Cayman and indeed all of us in the Caribbean, is how we manage the obligation to humanely deal with refugees when we, like many countries, are faced with our own budget and resource constraints. And as many of us in the Caribbean region have found, the cost of assisting and processing refugees has increased significantly each year. As a Government, we have a duty to ensure that the legitimate needs of our own people are met; so we must strike a balance.

However, our geography also presents a problem. Cayman Brac is just a bit more than 100 miles from the southern coast of Cuba and all three of our Islands are in the path to Central America. Our largest percentage of migrants thus comes from Cuba.

With the small population of the Cayman Islands, the per capita rate of illegal migration exceeds that of most other countries, including the United States. The cost of receiving, processing, detaining and repatriating illegal migrants was over US$1 million in the 2013-14 financial year. The cost for providing assistance for asylum seekers and refugees also exceeded the projections during the 2013-14 financial year.

The screening for migrants who have a valid claim for refugee status is a key role that the Immigration Department performs. Staff have been trained in international refugee law, leading to the revision of policies for the reception and processing of migrants.

Later this month the Deputy Governor will lead a delegation to Cuba with the aim of negotiating a new Memorandum of Understanding with Cuba. One of the major items on the agenda is a reduction in the repatriation time for those migrants who do not have a valid claim to asylum.

The Cayman Islands looks forward to working with our regional neighbours on strategies and practices that can help prevent risky illegal migration from being attempted in the first instance and practical ways of dealing with the processing, custody and repatriation of illegal migrants.

For those who seek refuge here fleeing from persecution in their own country, we have adequate and proper legislation that allows them to apply for asylum.

Once again, it is my honour and privilege to welcome you to the Cayman Islands. It is my sincere wish that the December meeting in Brazil commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees will be productive and set the stage for the way forward.

 

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