Government officials are preparing to repatriate early this week a group of nearly 30 Cuban nationals who entered The Bahamas illegally.
The arrangements are being made through the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Immigration in conjunction with the Cuban Consulate office in The Bahamas.
Among those set to be repatriated are the 22 Cuban men being detained at Her Majesty’s Prison in Fox Hill, who were allegedly involved in the uprising at the Detention Centre on Carmichael Road last December.
Instead of pushing for charges in the matter, government officials have decided that it would be best to just repatriate the immigrants.
The Bahama Journal reported last week that there is reportedly concern that charging the Cubans with a crime would result in serious backlash from the Cuban-American community in Miami.
But some people believe repatriating them could also have the same effect.
A source close to the decision also said that it would be cheaper to send the Cubans home rather than spend money caring for them in prison.
Under the treaty The Bahamas has with Cuba, Cubans found in Bahamian territory must be repatriated. But a key international convention requires The Bahamas to first determine whether immigrants qualify for political refugee status. If that were the case, they would be granted asylum.
Authorities have noted that the reason why Haitians are often repatriated faster than Cubans is due to the fact that while they (Haitians) may be economic refugees, they are seldom-political refugees.
The Cubans believed to be responsible for the Detention Centre uprising were sent to the prison immediately after the incident and government officials had promised to keep them at the facility for “safekeeping” until their removal to their place of origin.
Immigration authorities had said that, “The government remains committed to fulfilling its international obligations and will make every effort to repatriate all individuals at the Detention Centre as soon as possible, once those obligations are completed.”
Minister of Immigration Vincent Peet told The Bahama Journal on Sunday that in all, 29 Cubans will be repatriated on Tuesday.
“The government believes it is in the best interest of all parties involved and it will save Bahamian taxpayers the expense of keeping the Cubans in jail,” he said.
Among those expected to be sent back to the Communist island is Francisco Napoles Valdez, the illegal Cuban immigrant who had escaped from the Detention Centre immediately after the riot and was soon recaptured.
After the riot, Cuban Consul General to The Bahamas Felix Wilson told The Bahama Journal that the “criminal” act carried out by some Cubans must be condemned.
He had also expressed hopes that the illegal Cuban immigrants who started the fire and led the attack at the centre be repatriated as soon as possible; adding at the time that a clear message must be sent that resorting to crime is not the answer to frustrations that some illegal immigrants may feel.
In the days following the uprising, the cries from the Cuban-American group, Vigilia Mambisa, faded and authorities are hoping it remains that way.
The uprising had placed the spotlight on alleged human rights abuses at the Detention Centre, which government officials were forced to deny. Repeated claims eventually led to authorities appointing former prison superintendent Edwin Culmer as director of the facility.
Since the uprising, the Cubans being detained at the prison have also made it to the front pages of the Miami Herald, making claims of abuse.
It put authorities here on the defensive again. Former Minister of Immigration and now leader of the Free National Movement Senator Tommy Turnquest said as far as he’s concerned, government officials are following proper procedure by adhering to the treaty the country has with Cuba.
But he also said any illegal immigrant who may have broken the law here should “face the music.”
He added, however, that part of their sentence could very well be that they are repatriated.
“If they broke laws in The Bahamas they ought to be subject to Bahamian laws,” Mr. Turnquest said. “They ought to be tried, but over and above that I don’t know that there is anything other than what they’re doing that the government could have done. It’s not easy, but governance is not easy.”