Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cubans arrive in bad shape

Cubans arrive in bad shape
Monday, February 27, 2006

A group of 13 Cubans, nine males and four females, that reached Colliers
Beach in East End late Wednesday night, appear to have stopped first at
Cayman Brac and believed that they had reached Swan Island off the coast
of Honduras.

The group have arrived when the United Nations’ spotlight has been
turned on the Cayman Islands, regarding the country’s treatment of
refugees in the wake of Dr Luis Luarca’s hunger strike.

East End resident McCarron McLaughlin said he came across this latest
group on the road close to where their boat landed in the grassy area
near East End Public Beach. The vessel was about fourteen-foot long and
five-foot wide and was obviously taking in water, he said.

They were all walking, but in no condition to head back to sea, he
thought. One of the Cubans told him that they had been at sea for twelve
days and thought that they had arrived in Swan Island, which is located
about ninety miles off the coast of Honduras. The Cubans were all
sunburned and covered with diesel smut, he said.

“Their faces were black. They almost looked baked. You could see their
skin was peeling,” said Mr McLaughlin, who added that he could “get
along in Spanish”.

“My heart really goes out to them, being mistreated in their own
country. It’s not like here where you can leave on your own terms. The
response (here) was horrendous,” he said.

Though an ambulance arrived within twenty-five minutes, the police did
not show up for an hour, and immigration some time later.

When Mr McLaughlin found the Cubans, he said that they had American
brand peanut butter, sausages and cream crackers, which he knows they
could not have purchased in Cuba

“I was going to ask them if someone had bought them something to eat,”
he said. A member of the public went to the Royal Reef to get cold water
and biscuits for them, and the Cubans used a hose at a construction site
nearby to wash off the smut and clean up a little.

“One girl’s feet were so swollen that she looked like she had
elephantitis, probably from the boat taking in water. It was a serious
infection,” he thought. She was eighteen years old and the youngest
woman on board. He learned.

“Some of the guys were contemplating leaving, but they couldn’t because
the propeller was broken.” Mr McLaughlin said that when the RCIPS
arrived they asked the Cubans for their identification cards.

The police officers then told the Cubans that if they could get diesel
and food, that they could just go, and that it was out of their
jurisdiction because it was an immigration matter, claimed Mr McLaughlin.

He noted there were two police officers to monitor three districts that

Eventually, one hour and forty minutes after he found the Cubans, an
immigration officer showed up and interviewed the girl with swollen feet.

“Six Cubans left in the ambulance, and the rest left in the police car,
and then I left,” said Mr McLaughlin. He explained that at one point
during the incident, he “almost got caught up in an argument” with other
members of the public.

He said they had formed some sort of pact never to call the police about
Cuban arrivals, but Mr McLaughlin is of the view that, in this case, it
was impossible for them to continue their journey.

“If the police had allowed them to leave, I would have intervened,” he said.

Sources on Cayman Brac told Cayman Net News that on Tuesday 21 February,
a boat carrying four female and nine male Cubans stopped at Cayman Brac,
but were allowed to continue on.

There was no official release on this incident by press time, despite
the fact that Net News has made enquiries as to whether this is the same

The very brief release for the group that landed on East End stated that
the Cubans indicated they were travelling to Honduras when they were
forced to land in Grand Cayman because of damage to their vessel’s

It says, “Six members of the group required immediate medical attention
and are now being treated for conditions related to sun exposure and
their method of travel. All members of this group are being handled by
Immigration officials.”

Net News has been contacted by phone from inside Fairbanks Prison by a
Cuban migrant asking for help to apply for political asylum.

Cayman Islands Human Right Committee member Gordon Barlow said, “It’s
unthinkable for the Immigration Department or District Administration on
the Sister Islands to deny the Cubans direct and unmonitored access to
independent advice.

“There should be a system in place whereby the Red Cross or some other
suitable NGO is notified when any refugee arrives to ask them if they
want to apply for political asylum. They shouldn’t have to rely on
immigration to supply them with this information,” said Mr Barlow.

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