The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says many Caribbean countries are using detention centres are a means of controlling illegal migration and persons fleeing persecution, conflict and other forms of violence.
In a statement, the UNCHR said that at the end of 2012, it had recorded over 2,500 persons intercepted in the Caribbean region over the course of the year.
“Many Caribbean states use detention to control these migration flows within their territories. Overcrowding, poor sanitation and inadequate procedural safeguards currently characterize immigration detention centers throughout the Caribbean region,” it added.
UNCHR said that it has a global mandate to ensure the protection and fair treatment of persons fleeing persecution, conflict and other forms of violence and that it works with individual states in the Caribbean region to promote regional cooperation to achieve this end.
UNCHR said that recent reports in the media have drawn attention to conditions in the Carmichael Road Detention Centre in the Bahamas where Cuban and Haitian refugees and asylum-seekers are held.
“For years, UNHCR has engaged The Bahamas in dialogue to increase protection for refugees and asylum-seekers through improvements to due process, access to asylum and conditions at this facility.
“While further fundamental changes are needed to make practices and conditions consistent with basic international standards, UNHCR is encouraged by recent steps taken by the government, which include proposing new regulations to address conditions, approving a budget for detention facility infrastructure upgrades, using more humane and cost effective alternatives to detention for refugees, and taking preliminary measures to establish a fair asylum process. “
But the UNHCR said it was calling upon the Bahamas government “to institutionalize this asylum process into law, making it accessible to persons of all nationalities and to fully implement the reforms proposed to improve detention conditions.
“Similar facilities are used throughout the region as the default response to managing migration flows. UNHCR calls upon all governments in the Caribbean to ensure refugee and asylum-seekers are treated humanely and fairly in a manner consistent with international obligations.”
Earlier this week, the Bahamas government said it does not condone, incite or support cruel and inhumane treatment of people and that it is working with the UNHCR in processing asylum seekers.
In a lengthy statement, the Perry Christie government said it wanted to clarify events relating to the detained Cuban nationals in the country as well as “explain the way forward”.
It said that the work with the UNCHR is being undertaken in accordance with United Nations treaties, customary international law, and the laws of the Bahamas.
“We are advised that officials of the United States have reviewed and are currently adjudicating the cases of four of the detainees to determine whether they can be accepted and resettled into the United States.”
The government said in three of these cases, it appears that the detainees had previously been permanent residents of the United States, and the fourth case was deemed by the UNCHR to be eligible for residence in a third country.