It was with very mixed emotions that guests and staff alike witnessed the latest Cuban migrant boat to pass through the waters of Cayman, making a very brief stop here at The Reef Resort’s dock yesterday afternoon.
The nine men and one woman were in good health and, despite being at sea for 9 days in what seemed to be a very unstable vessel, they expressed their wish to the authorities via our Cuban expat staff member, Enrique, to carry on with their journey to Honduras where family members were awaiting their arrival.
Most of our guests expressed extreme concern and were donating food, water and anything that they could think of in an effort to help make the treacherous journey a little better. We gave them fresh water and fruit, warm bread and diesel fuel to continue with their journey. The occupants of the boat were very grateful and sailed away with about 50 onlookers waving and wishing them luck.
Our guests had many questions, the main one being, why are they being allowed to continue?
According to Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson, Cayman has not granted refugee status to anyone since 1994 when a group of 43 Cuban migrants were given asylum. Mr. Manderson has said Cubans arriving here by boat are generally economic migrants, not refugees. Currently, the Cayman Islands Memorandum of Understanding agreement with Cuba, signed in 1999, states that Cuban migrants who enter Cayman illegally are sent back to their home country.
Under current guidelines, the Cayman Islands government does not provide any assistance to Cuban migrants who show up in vessels off shore. However, those migrants are given the option of continuing on with their journey even if the water craft they travel in is clearly not seaworthy. If the occupants are deemed physically unable to continue or express the wish to be repatriated, or it is very obvious that the vessel will not make it, the Cayman authorities will take them ashore and they will be repatriated after a short spell here in Cayman.
According to the report: “The vessels used by Cuban migrants, even if repaired and made notionally seaworthy, are either makeshift or extremely old and are still at risk during what all are agreed is an extremely dangerous journey.
“If a vessel, which has been patched up with the assistance of the Cayman Islands government was to then encounter difficulties, which in turn led to loss of lives, it could be argued that the Caymanian authorities are implicated in and in part responsible for, such an unfortunate outcome.”
I myself believe that this is one of the saddest, yet at the same time , the most humbling and bravest exhibits of human behaviour that one could experience. To risk your life like this in order to start a new life is more than most of us can comprehend, however, this is a regular occurrence here in Cayman and all over the world.
I know that I left here last night with an overwhelming sense of how lucky I am and how good I have it!
As a final thought, before leaving, they were asked if they needed anything else for their journey, their answer was ‘just pray for us’! I think we all prayed in our own little way last night.