Nicaraguans stranded in Cayman Islands and on cruise ships for over three months

cayman islands

More than 500 Nicaraguan workers in the tourism and hotel industry, who have lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 health crisis, have been stranded for more than three months in the Cayman Islands,  because of the government’s refusal to allow them their right to return home, says a report by Confidencial, a leading weekly newspaper.

“We want to return to our homeland; it is our constitutional right. We are out of work, and we are surviving thanks to the good heart of the government and the people of the Cayman Islands who have been supporting us”, said Earny Atly, a Bluefields, Nicaragua native from Grand Cayman in a public video.

Atly is on the Caribbean island along with other 300 Nicaraguans who have requested to return to the country. On April 15, the Cayman Airways airline announced that it would fly to Managua to repatriate Nicaraguans on the island. However, Nicaragua’s Government rejected the flights telling Grand Cayman’s Government directly that they were closing off the borders, a closing which three months later has never been made official, says the report by Confidencial.

Since then, from the Caribbean island there have been repatriation flights for workers from other countries like Mexico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Honduras, Philippines, India, Canada, England, United States, while “the first country that was scheduled for this was Nicaragua, and we’re still here”, confirms Atly.

“Karla” is off the coast of Barbados along with 157 other Nicaraguans “floating”, on one of the Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships. Nicaragua’s Government cancelled their repatriation flight scheduled for June 18 without giving any justification, despite the fact that Royal Caribbean complied with the requirements imposed by Ortega, which included: Covid-19 tests for all crew members, transportation per diem, and payment of a charter flight.

“We should have been home long ago and we’re still here. What we don’t understand is they said -we want the tests, the charter flight-, and all this was covered by the company and still nothing”, argues “Karla”.

Jonathan Duarte is a Nicaraguan-US consultant who provides advice to Nicaraguans who are stranded in Cayman Islands and on touristic cruise ships. Years ago, he worked as a consultant for the company Royal Caribbean; and he assures that Daniel Ortega’s government has imposed “unusual” conditions for the repatriation of Nicaraguans. He noted that besides the test and the charter flight, “they are now asking for the cruise lines to pay for the airport’s operation costs. They are extorting them, and if they don’t pay that they are not going to allow the Nicaraguans to enter,” he told the Confidencial.

“Article 13 of the Declaration of Human Rights reads that, everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country, so this regime is violating the rights of its own citizens, and of international law”, says Duarte.

For Duarte, the government’s extortion of the cruise lines and refusal to assist the repatriation of fellow citizens could have a direct impact on the future employment opportunities of the Caribbean Coast community, where most of the stranded Nicas are from.

“I was a consultant for Royal Caribbean; in fact, I hired the managers of two ships, and I remember that there was a list of problem countries where we could not recruit. My concern is that they put Nicaragua in that list because this is a very important source of employment for the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, since there is no employment because of the Government”, says Duarte.

Most of the Nicaraguans on the Cayman Islands and cruises are workers native to the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, forced to migrate due to the lack of work opportunities in the Caribbean region. Their families have sought out the local authorities but have not received answers.

Rosa Simmons, who has worked on tourist ships for 16 years, told Confidencial that the Government does not even have a list of how many Nicaraguans are aboard working at high seas, “they only know that the people aboard the ships are black people from the Caribbean Coast, that we mean little or nothing to them”.

In addition to the Nicaraguans in the Caribbean, there are other groups stranded on cruise ships located in countries such as South Africa, Dubai, England, Italy, and Brazil, with fewer possibilities of immediate return, the report by Confidencial added.