The government will be looking to build a detention centre to temporarily hold illegal immigrants that are captured while the territory seeks to deport them to their native country.
While speaking at a press conference last Friday, Minister Vincent Wheatley said housing illegal immigrants has been a burden for the government over the years and they hope to offset that cost by building the detention facility.
The Immigration Minister said the government has spent nearly half a million dollars this year alone trying to repatriate illegal immigrants. He did not state if money was allocated for the project or give a specific timeline towards the commencement or completion of this facility as he noted the country has been strapped for cash because of the impact of the coronavirus
“One of the things that we hope to do is to build a detention centre. Because once you have illegal immigrants here, there’s no place to put them. We have to be forced to use hotels and private security. It is incredibly expensive because God forbid, they end up in court or have medical issues. In fact, two of the persons who were found on Wednesday [November 24] ended up in the hospital. In trying to escape, they broke their legs. That’s an additional expense on the country. It has cost the country too much money,” Wheatley said.
Wheatley also acknowledged that illegal immigration has been a widespread and concerning issue in the BVI for years and the government is trying its best to have the issue dealt with. He used the same issue happening in the United Kingdom as a backdrop for what the territory faces.
“The issue of migration is a serious problem. We have seen in the news a few days ago where 27 persons have drowned trying to cross over from France into the UK. Just like Europe and the UK, the borders [Virgin Islands’ borders] are very porous. It is incredibly difficult to patrol our waters here between BVI from any outside countries. Whether it be St Maarten, St Kitts or our neighbours; it’s a very challenging thing to do. We will try our best to minimize persons coming in,” the Immigration Minister said.
Meanwhile, Premier Andrew Fahie
said the issue of illegal immigration is something that was discussed extensively at the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) between the British Overseas Territories (OT) in the UK earlier this month.
He noted most of the OTs, especially Turks and Caicos, have also expressed their concerns about the abundance of illegal immigrants entering their territory.
“It’s something the whole Caribbean is experiencing more and more and it’s going to take a unified front to deal with it. Hence why I call for the introduction of a coast guard team that I’ll be following up and that has, I’d say, met the task of approval from the governor and together he and I will be working towards how we can bring this to fruition. So, we can even have our people serving in the coast guard,” the Premier said.
Last week, it was reported that two Haitian men escaped custody. The information provided was that the men were being held at Hotel Castle Maria in Tortola and were being guarded by a private security company contracted by the government.
This is at least the second time within the last month as in late October, four Haitian detainees escaped the custody of Immigration while being held at a quarantine facility.
The Minister said he could not confirm if the fugitives were recaptured but he noted after the incident occurred, the police captured about 15 additional illegal immigrants the following day.