Twenty Haitian migrants were detained on Virgin Gorda on Monday morning after illegally entering the territory, according to the Immigration Department and the Police Information Office.

The migrants were found close to the VG Yacht Harbour and apprehended by police, customs and immigration officers, the police said, urging residents to be on the lookout for more migrants on the island.

Chief Immigration Officer Ian Penn said in a Monday afternoon press release that the migrants were in the custody of the Immigration Department. He added that the group included 12 males, four females and four children, the release stated.

Mr. Penn said the migrants would be safely detained following intake interviews and Covid-19 testing administered by the BVI Health Service Authority, the release added. He urged residents to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities at sea.

Additionally, anyone with information related to the migrants is asked to contact the Immigration Department at 468-4717, 468- 4715 or 468-4753 or the police at 311.

The government noted that the Joint Task Force — which includes immigration, customs and police officers — will continue working to ensure that cohesive plans are executed to “ensure the safety of residents, as the security of the territory’s borders is paramount,” the release stated.

Previous captures

Last year, at least 94 migrants were detained after illegally entering the territory, according to reports from VI police and other law enforcement agencies. Often, officials have struggled to respond to the surge in migrants, many of whom are fleeing political and economic turmoil in Haiti and other countries.

While a majority of last year’s detainees were Haitian, migrants from other countries within the region were detained as well. Last September, a 9-month-old baby was among a group ofsix Cubans and a St. Kitts and Nevis national detained on Great Thatch during an early morning operation.

On July 18, police detained 19 migrants and a Chalwell Estate captain after a boat chase that ended in Manuel Reef. Police said at the time that the migrants were nationals of Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Guyana. On April 24, the JTF apprehended 15 migrants after responding to reports of an abandoned vessel on Anegada. They included Haitians, Colombians and Romanians, the JTF stated.

Off Virgin Gorda

About a month earlier, on March 23, JTF officers detained about 23 migrants on the south side of Virgin Gorda, Customs Commissioner Wade Smith told the Beacon at the time. The detainees were adults of “various different ages” from “various countries,” Mr. Smith added.

Late last January, customs officers detained 30 more migrants after responding to a report of a suspicious vessel near Kingstown. Mr. Smith said at the time that men, women and children were aboard the boat, but he declined to provide specifics about their ages, genders or nationalities.

VI officials have struggled to house the detained migrants while processing them. At least 14 escaped from the temporary detention facility at Hotel Castle Maria in McNamara between October 2021 and August 2022.

At least seven were subsequently recaptured, officials have reported.

 Regional problem

The VI is not the only Caribbean jurisdiction facing such pressures. Turks and Caicos Islands authorities have been under severe pressure this year after 128 Haitian migrants were detained in that territory on Jan. 2, according to news reports.

The Royal TCI Police Force stated that the detainees included 123 males, four females and one minor. The incident came less than two weeks after 52 more Haitian migrants were reportedly detained by the police in that territory.

Last year, increased migration in the region drew the attention of international agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In May, UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said during a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland that the agency had become “increasingly concerned” about the growing number of Haitians who had resorted to utilising dangerous methods to try to cross the Caribbean Sea, often in overloaded and unseaworthy boats.