Illegal migrants test Cayman’s housing capacity and other limits | Loop Cayman Islands

The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass

The Cayman Islands Customs and Border Control (CBC) have now reported that the CBC Detention Centre is at capacity. As a result, the Elliott Conolly Civic Centre in Gun Bay East End is being temporarily used to house 23 migrants, a move which the CBC says is in accordance with the Mass Migration Contingency Plan (MMCP).

Regarding the Elliott Conolly Civic Centre, this is one of four Civic Centres listed in the MMCP as supplemental short-term accommodation for migrants.

While only short-term accommodation is contemplated, members of the public should be aware that administrative matters, legal and other considerations related to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was extended to the Cayman Islands on July 25, 1997, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, which was extended to the Cayman Islands on May 9, 1988 and its 1988 Protocol, which was subsequently extended to the Cayman Islands on the January 30, 2004, the Convention on the High Seas, which was extended to the Cayman Islands on March 14, 1960, the memorandum of understanding between Cuba and the Cayman Islands dated April 15, 1999, internal guidelines developed in the past by the Cayman Islands government and international law related to asylum seekers and refugees could result in migrants remaining in Cayman for a much longer period of time than anticipated by Cayman’s Mass Migration Committee.

If a number of migrants do have the opportunity to remain in Cayman for a long period to establish their rights under international law and conventions, Cayman residents should, of course, treat them with the same kindness that they would afford to any other person coming to the island and who is seeking better opportunities.

The question for Cayman’s Mass Migration Committee, however, is whether they have the capacity to manage a large exodus of migrants. For example, this was reported to be the case between 1993 and 1995, when over 2,000 Cuban migrants passed through Cayman waters and 1,100 landed in the Cayman Islands. With the recent trend of migrants arriving weekly and staying (rather than moving on), Cayman could see multiples of the 1993-1995 migrant numbers.

The capacity of social services, welfare, the Department of Children & Family Services, the Needs Assessment Unit and the Health Services Authority could suddenly become stretched, for example, if 10,000 migrants arrived in the Cayman Islands this year and the relevant agencies have to provide for the migrants, along with some Cayman residents who are already struggling post Covid lockdown.

Security is also a challenge because it will be hard without paperwork or corroboration to discover who are really economic migrants versus political refugees or members of terrorist cell groups or human trafficking organisations.

It may sound extreme, but these are things that Cayman authorities must consider when processing migrants, especially whether they have the resources to tackle the myriad of financial, social, health and security issues which may develop.

In connection with these considerations, it was reported that the Mass Migration Committee met yesterday, May 11, to progress plans for alternative migrants accommodation which will alleviate the need to use any of the Civic Centres listed as additional accommodation in the MMCP.

This is not the first time that the authorities have had to consider alternative accommodation, however, as 37 migrants were recently transferred from Cayman Brac to Grand Cayman due to insufficient resources in Cayman Brac to effectively manage that number of migrants.

Reacting to the latest resource issues, CBC Director Charles Clifford said that “it was necessary to activate the temporary housing plan and with the assistance of Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI), the Elliott Conolly Civic Centre has been set up to temporarily house some of the migrants while alternative accommodation for migrants is established.”

While the CBC Director’s efforts are appreciated, places like the Elliott Conolly Civic Centre and all other civic centres will be needed as hurricane shelters during the upcoming hurricane season. Should thousands of migrants arrive between now and then and all civic centres are at capacity, Cayman residents seeking shelter away from dangerous storms may find themselves with no options for security or safety, having to weather the storm in an unsafe home or structure.