temporary immigration detention centre
Migrants are typically held at Hotel Castle Maria, which serves as the temporary immigration detention centre, until they are repatriated. (File photo: ALLISON VAUGHN)

Early on the morning of Feb. 29 in an abandoned building on Virgin Gorda, police found 11 migrants who had entered the territory illegally, they said.

Subsequent investigations uncovered three more migrants at the same location, and further inquiries suggested that more could be on the island as well, according to a statement issued the same day by the Police Information Office.

Police said the apprehended migrants would be handed over to the Immigration Department as investigations continued.

Later that afternoon, the Immigration Department stated that the migrants were Haitian, British, Romanian, Cameroonian, Ecuadorian and French nationals. The department also confirmed that they were undergoing intake processes by its Enforcement Unit pending repatriation.

Officials had not provided further information since then, and the Immigration Department did not respond to a request for comment on the migrants’ status.

Previous group caught

The group was the second found in a two-week period.

On Feb. 14 and 15 on Cooper Island and in nearby waters, at least 34 migrants were apprehended, including 11 children younger than 6, according to police and immigration officials.

Police initially announced the incident on Feb. 15, stating in a short press release that a vessel transporting “suspected illegal immigrants” had been intercepted shortly before midnight the previous night during a joint operation involving the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and United States Customs and Border Protection.

“The vessel ran ashore on Cooper Island and 25 adults and children were found,” according to the press release. “Additional searches conducted during daylight around the island led to the discovery of an additional 10 individuals. The illegal immigrants have been handed over to the Immigration Department.”

The press release added that the whereabouts of the captain were “unknown” but stated that investigations were ongoing.

32 Haitians, 2 Syrians

The following week, Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Nadia Demming-Hodge told the Beacon that 34 migrants had been apprehended — not 35 as police had stated.

Thirty-two were Haitian, and the other two were Syrian men, Ms. Demming-Hodge wrote in an email.

All told, 18 of the migrants were males, including four children between the ages of 1.5 and 4, she stated.

The 16 females included seven children ranging from 1.5 to 5.5 years old.

Castle Maria

At the time, Ms. Demming-Hodge also said all the migrants were being held at Hotel Castle Maria, which is the Immigration Department’s designated temporary detention facility.

“The department is currently undergoing its processes for repatriation,” she told the Beacon on Feb. 20. “Hence, I am unable to give a financial account at this time.”

The Immigration Department has provided no further information about the first group of migrants despite the Beacon’s Monday request for an update.

The police are seeking assistance in identifying and apprehending migrants on Virgin Gorda who may have entered the territory illegally.

Anyone who notices an unfamiliar person can contact the Virgin Gorda Police Station at 368-5690 or the Immigration Department at 468-4705 or 468-4754.