The Immigration Department says efforts to repatriate Juan Abraham Ramirez Rijo to his reputed homeland, the Dominican Republic, continue to be hampered owing to a lack of travel documents and identification.
And the DR is refusing to accept the man – picked up at sea by a passing cruise ship and handed over to the Coast Guard four months ago – unless he can provide documentary evidence of his nationality.
And the length of time in detention has begun to take its toll on the man who is caught in a legal no man’s land.
Chief Immigration Officer Wayne Marshall issued a statement Tuesday in response to Rijo’s claims that he was being held in a cold room at the airport detention centre in handcuffs, causing nosebleeds.
The Immigration Department “is committed and remained duty bound” to ensure that Rijo is returned safely to his homeland, the immigration chief said in a Government statement.
Rijo was one of 13 people rescued by the crew of a cruise ship en route to Barbados on December 20 from a small vessel which was adrift 47 nautical miles from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.
The 13, including a pregnant woman, were medically examined, found to be in good health, and were housed here “in a secure location” until they were identified, according to the statement.
They were also allowed to contact family and friends in an effort to return home. After being held here for two weeks, all but Rijo were repatriated to their homeland.
Marshall said: “Over the past three months the department conducted an in-depth investigation seeking the assistance of local and international entities and was able to gather information relating to his identity. This information included biometric and biographic data and was forwarded to the authorities of the Dominican Republic.
“However, the authorities have stated that they are unable to confirm his identity, and that he is likely to be refused entry if he presents without a valid Dominican Republic travel document.”
The Immigration Department also sought the assistance of a Barbadian who lived in the Dominican Republic to communicate with Rijo, and also to make contact with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Santo Domingo, it said.
The immigration chief said that the man continues to be housed at a detention centre here “where he is cared for daily, and provided with medical attention from doctors at the polyclinic, the emergency medical technicians at the airport and the Port Health nurse”, according to the Government statement.
The statement declared that none of his ailments was considered serious, and he was deemed fit to return to the detention centre.
But over the past few weeks, Rijo has become increasingly agitated and frustrated, which the Chief Immigration Officer said led to him abusing his privileges and refusing to follow instructions.
“He also became disruptive and threatened and used abusive language to immigration officers” and police were called in on four occasions, Marshall said.
The immigration chief denied that the currently stateless man was kept in handcuffs or restrained at any time, stating that detainees at the centre are neither handcuffed nor restrained.
Marshall said: “Mr. Rijo’s case is unusual, since most detainees are repatriated to their homeland in a day or two. However, the officers have gone beyond the call of duty to ensure that his basic human rights were not infringed.
“Moreover, he was allowed to walk around freely in the detention area until bedtime.”
The Government statement added that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “is actively engaged in talks with its counterpart ministry in the Dominican Republic to acquire satisfactory evidence that Mr. Rijo is a citizen of that country”.