June 30, 2014

Cayman Islands tells Cubans to move on or be detained

Two boats carrying 64 Cuban migrants were told they could not linger in Cayman waters.

Getting tough with Cuban boatpeople who linger and resupply in the waters of the Cayman Islands, authorities in the British territory have ordered more than 60 Cubans to sail on or face detentions in less than one week.

Witnesses said some of the 34 Cubans aboard a wooden boat were allowed to go ashore and return to their craft Sunday after using bathrooms and gathering up water in the touristy east end of Grand Cayman Island.

But the boat sailed away after Cayman authorities ordered the Cubans to move on or be detained and eventual repatriation to their country, they added. Another boat carrying 30 Cubans received the same orders and sailed on Friday.

The problem arises from a 1999 agreement with Cuba that bans Cayman officials from providing or allowing any aid to undocumented Cubans found in territorial waters. They can allow the Cubans to continue their voyages if their vessels are seaworthy, but if the boats are unsafe, they detain and repatriate the migrants.

Cayman residents were quietly helping the Cubans with food, water and boat repairs for several years until their government issued a stern warning. But even authorities sometimes turn a blind eye to such assistance, unless it becomes too public.

Most Cubans spotted in Cayman waters have set off from the eastern end of their island, 125 miles to the north, and plan to ride the prevailing currents and winds to Honduras. From there, they hope to travel by land to the Mexican border with the United States, where they are legally allowed to stay under the U.S. “wet foot, dry foot policy.”

The wooden boat turned away Sunday from the East End Dock, in full view of tourist bars and restaurants, appeared to be a homemade fishing vessel, with an engine, no sail and a shark’s jaws painted on its prow. Inner tubes tied to outriggers were apparently designed to increase its stability in rough seas, according to photos of the vessel.

Last week, another 30 Cubans were ordered to sail on or be detained after their vessel, similar to the one on Sunday, had broken down and drifted for nearly two weeks along the south side of Grand Cayman Island.

Residents had helped those Cubans to repair their boat and given them food and water, according to the news Web site Cayman Compass. But Interim Immigration Director Bruce Smith gave them 24 hours to continue their journey or be detained. “We can’t just let them float around out there forever,” Smith was quoted as saying.

Ten chose to be put ashore for repatriation to Cuba and the other 20 opted to continue the risky journey, according to Cayman Compass.

Cuban and Cayman officials have been trying to set a date for talks on updating the 1999 agreement. Cayman has complained that Havana takes too long to approve the repatriation of its citizens, keeping the migrant detention center in the British territory filled with frustrated Cubans who have staged several protests and escape attempts.

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