February 1, 2023

The Editor Speaks: Is Cayman’s Deputy Governor right that our Cuban migrant policy saves lives?

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Colin Wilson2webAccording to Cayman Islands Deputy Governor, Franz Manderson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the international protection agency for refugees, has advised our government that approx. 3,000 migrants died in the Caribbean in 2014.

Manderson poses these questions: “How many Cubans who have left our waters failed to reach their destination? Are we saying that the humane thing to do is to allow the Cubans who have just arrived [in our waters] in a boat without a motor, to travel 300 miles? Is that really the humane thing to do? Our policy says that we do not support illegal migration, that we tell the Cubans that if they are fleeing persecution we will protect them but if they are economic migrants we will sent them back to Cuba.”

He also said if the Cayman Islands supports illegal immigration and people smuggling we will be added to a black list by the United Nations. The UNHCR has asked Cayman more than once not to support illegal immigration and not to allow Cubans to travel in unsafe vessels, he added.

How would we react if one of our neighbouring countries gave 300 migrants some fuel and water and told them to “head down to Cayman Brac”? was another question he asked. Then came the question of liability.

“What is the cost of continually giving assistance to thousands of migrants some of whom may die? What is our liability for assisting migrants who later die at sea?”

In the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Cayman has signed with the Cuban government our policy is to provide any humanitarian assistance to the Cubans that they need, but if they accept any help, they will be taken into custody and sent back to Cuba. The (MOU) also provides details of the repatriation process.

On Facebook Manderson gave some valuable insight to the background pertaining to the Cayman Islands Government’s policy.

“In the early 1990’s,” he said, “we [Cayman] began to see Cubans arrive just like they arrive now in very unsafe boats seeking assistance. Our policy at the time was to give assistance … so we gave assistance in the form of food water and fuel. Then the quality of the boats began to diminish so we helped them repair the boats.
“Soon the boats were of such low quality that they could not be repaired so we had to build a small camp to house the Cubans while they waited to be sent home. But more and more came and we spent many thousands of dollars providing assistance. What we didn’t know was that our assistance was ‘pulling’ more Cubans to leave Cuba, as they were not able to acquire enough food, water and fuel to take them to Honduras or Mexico and we were a key port for assistance. So what we were doing was supporting illegal immigration.

“In 1994 we received 1183 Cubans in a period of weeks and were left with a crisis which costs us $5 million. Why? Because we were known for our assistance and support for illegal immigration. After we learned our lesson we signed an MOU with Cuba to allow us to return the illegal migrants. We also stopped giving assistance and the Cubans stopped coming until a few years ago when we started giving assistance.”

Is he right? Are we doing the right thing?

The US wet-foot, dry-foot policy allows Cubans the right to remain in the country if they step foot on American soil but if they are picked up at sea by the US authorities, they are sent back to Cuba.

And it is this policy why thousands of Cuban migrants try and reach the USA by trying to get there via Honduras with a little help from us.

The special preference once they set foot on U.S. soil stems almost wholly from the United States’ Cold War–era fear of communism. The “wet foot, dry foot” policy, grounded in the 1965 Cuban Adjustment Act, allows Cubans to be protected (fed, registered, given work permits and health care) once they enter the United States; they are not even required to prove eligibility for asylum. They do not have to belong to a specific, persecuted social group or show that their lives are in danger. They need only to set one foot on U.S. territory. A year later, they can become permanent legal residents.

What worries them now is with the new friendlier USA/Cuban relationship this wet foot, dry foot policy will stop and that is why we are seeing a very marked increase in their migration.

The 1965 Act, however, was originally designed to apply only to the 165,000 Cubans who had taken refuge in the United States and whose immigration status was in limbo. The legislation, however, had no expiration date!

There is no clear answer to Manderson’s question.

We will continue, therefore, to see desperate people crowded into makeshift boats, and the toll of human life is ever increasing.

The answer really lies with Cuba and the USA. We are the ones, however, getting the bad publicity with a policy that is a no win situation and human lives pay the price.

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