By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
COAST Guard officers rescued 23 Cubans from a sinking ship in waters near Cay Sal on Sunday.
According to reports, the group, believed to be headed for the United States, was on board the ship when it began taking on water. The ship was spotted by the United States Coast Guard, which rescued the migrants moments before the ship sank.
The migrants were then handed over to Bahamian authorities.
However, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell said the Detention Centre is already overcrowded and cannot hold any more immigrants.
He said the government now has to arrange emergency flights to free up some space.
“We already have about 300 immigrants in the Detention Centre and by the time this group comes it will be almost 400. It is a matter of concern because it was not meant to hold that amount of people. The majority of the detainees are Haitian and so now we have to move on getting some of them out of there,” he said.
“Flights are being arranged for Tuesday and Wednesday to take as many as 200 of them back to Port au Prince. We also have 15 Cubans waiting repatriation. If there is a problem getting them on a regular flight we now have to make special arrangements to get them on a charter because we cannot have them there for a long period of time, but that is going to cost us about $28,000.”
Last October, the governments of the Bahamas and Cuba signed a new agreement which is expected to expedite the repatriations of Cuban nationals.
The agreement came after officials noticed increased levels of Cubans migrating to the Bahamas, presumably hoping to receive asylum from a third country.
During the news conference at that time in the Majority Room at the House of Assembly, Mr Fred Mitchell said bureaucracy issues between both countries have long bogged down the process. However, through this new agreement, such issues should all be a thing of the past.
“The central objective of this agreement is to reduce the time of regular Cuban immigrants arriving to the Bahamas. Through strengthening the communication between both our countries, our maritime interdiction entities and placing concrete time bound commitments in both countries, we expect to reduce the current repatriation time for regular Cuban migrants from the current situation where migrants might remain in the Detention Centre for months, to repatriation in several weeks at most,” he said.