Friday, March 24, 2006

Cuban Refugees Flee

Cuban Refugees Flee

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cuban migrants are returned to the Civic Centre on
Cayman Brac in April, 2005, after a peaceful

The twenty-eight Cuban asylum seekers who went missing Sunday night may
have fled these Islands because they were afraid of being sent back to
Cuba. Twenty-seven Cubans, who had been housed at Breakers Civic Centre,
failed to comply with their scheduled 9:00 pm return on Sunday 19 March,
according to a Government release.

There was still no sign of their reappearance or word of where they
might be by press time. The group comprised eleven females, nine males
and seven children, who had arrived in Grand Cayman on 9 December, 2005.
An additional male who arrived on 13 April, 2005 and was recently
relocated to the centre from HMP Northward took the total number who
failed to return to twenty-eight.

The release stated that all of the Cubans had requested asylum and had
received permission to leave the centre during the day. Immigration
officers were said to be conducting inquiries into the matter. A Cuban
national who has been living in the Cayman Islands for eighteen years,
said he had seen two of the escapees Sunday morning.

They had left his house around 10:00 am and he had not seen them again.
Later that night, at around 10:30 pm, he said someone he believed was a
security guard from the Civic Centre, called him to see if he knew where
the group was.

The man said he had no idea the refugees were planning anything. In
fact, he had overheard them say that they had been told by their lawyer
that they would get asylum. They did not seem frustrated, but were
waiting for their request to be granted, he said.

Asked why he thought the group would abscond if they thought they would
be granted asylum, the man said, “My guess is they got afraid that they
would not get it and would be sent back to Cuba. They were probably
planning to get out of here before they went back.”

He said they may have thought that the group was too big for them all to
be granted asylum and may have been concerned that part of the group
would be repatriated. “I know they were plenty afraid to go back,” said
the resident Cuban national. “They would definitely go to prison,” he added.

Some of the group of twenty-seven told him they had used a Cuban
government truck to launch their boat, and that the whole truck had been
sunk afterwards. They could go to jail for that, he said. Cayman Islands
Human Rights Committee member Gordon Barlow commented on the matter:
“This sort of thing could be largely avoided if the whole process were
open to scrutiny.

One can easily imagine how little the Cubans trust the Immigration
officials, when everything is so secret.” On 6 January, 2006, Cayman Net
News reported that the group of twenty seven had made written
allegations that they were forced to leave their vessel after it was
rammed and damaged by the Cayman Protector, the Drug Task Force/RCIPS
marine patrol vessel.

They further claimed that Cayman officers pointed guns at the group,
which included eight children, and threatened to sink their boat to
force them to disembark. They alleged that ten out of the original
thirty-seven Cubans continued on their journey, despite the fact that
the Cayman enforcement boat damaged their homemade craft.

More than two months after the news report and three months after the
incident, Net News made enquiries as to the progress of an RCIPS
investigation into this claim, and was told the case was still being
investigated but no further details were available (see Net News, 14
March edition).

The additional man, believed to be Juan Guerra, was part of a group of
Cubans who held a peaceful demonstration on Cayman Brac on 17 April,
2005, to make known their wish to continue on with their journey to
Honduras by sea and not to be repatriated to Cuba.

The twenty-nine Cuban migrants walked a distance of around two miles
from the Aston Rutty Civic Centre on the Bluff, where they were being
temporarily housed, to the Church of God (Holiness) at Watering Place, a
populous area in the eastern end of the Island.

The protestors placed roughly made placards in the windows of the
church, which read “Freedom Justice”, “Not Problem With Police”, “Para
Cuba No Hondura Si”, and one, with a picture of Jesus on the cross, read
“My God Help Me Please”.

As they left the church and climbed into pick-up trucks outside the
church, they shouted “No Cuba!” There was no indication that they were
protesting any other issues. All other protestors were repatriated
shortly afterwards. Mr Guerra, whose initial application for asylum was
denied by Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson, was appealing this
decision through his attorney James Austin Smith from local law firm,

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