Guantanamo facility will assist refugees in distress

Guantanamo facility will assist refugees in distress  (2007) 
by Sarah Stannard

Guantanamo facility will assist refugees in distressEdit

Story and photo by Army Sgt. Sarah Stannard
JTF-GTMO Public Affairs Office

In an attempt to front load operations centered on a possible influx of Caribbean refugees bound for the United States, representatives from Joint Task Force (JTF) - Guantanamo along with delegates from U.S Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Department of Homeland Security met last week to discuss the current migrant incident plan and the ongoing construction of the migrant operations facilities here.

New construction on U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo’s leeward side is part of a $16.5 million dollar contract to upgrade existing migrant operations facilities on the base. When completed, the camp will serve as a regional asset, providing shelter not only to economic and political asylum seekers, but also to victims of natural disasters.

The $16.5 million dollar construction project, which is currently about 20 percent complete, will be Guantanamo’s “insurance policy for a regional contingency,” Navy Capt. Bill Vaughan, director of engineering, told the group.

$750,000 dollars recently spent on Guantanamo’s leeward side was to upgrade the existing electrical systems. Though the camp’s initial site will use existing water and sewage systems, new showers, toilet and laundry facilities will be built. A wastewater treatment facility with a maximum processing capacity of 300,000 gallons per day will be built, as well as approximately 25 latrines, which can double as hurricane shelters.

This project, which has recently been reported in the mainstream press as preparation for a post-Castro Cuba, will actually serve as a regional asset to temporarily house not only political and economic asylum seekers, but victims of natural disasters and other unforeseen events.

With the Naval Station’s advantageous placement inside the Caribbean – though not on U.S. soil – the migrant facility will be well-suited to house refugees who have been displaced long term by hurricanes or floods that have caused major damage to the infrastructure of their home countries. Likewise, with Cuba central among six Caribbean nations reported by Transparency International to be in the top 20 of the most corrupt governments in the world, Guantanamo’s location is strategically important to the plan for interdiction of migrants seeking political or economic amnesty.

Presently, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepts about 600 refugees at sea every month, and estimates that another 50 reach U.S. soil weekly. Should there be a mass migration in the Caribbean for any reason, the Coast Guard estimates an average flow rate of about 3,000 migrants per week.

The Joint Task Force will be responsible for two key phases of the migrant facility operation. Personnel will conduct both the “precrisis” and “initiate camp build” phases as soon as the migrant population approaches exceeds capacity at Guantanamo. (Normally, Guantanamo houses around 30 migrants at any given time.)

At that time, Joint Task Force Troopers will mobilize to Guantanamo’s leeward side and commence erecting housing tents in and around the infrastructure which is currently being prepared.

The Joint Task Force will sustain operations for about two weeks, while follow-on forces are mobilized. The JTF deputy commanding general, Army Brig. Gen. Cameron Crawford, will assume temporary command of this operation.

The Joint Task Force is fully prepared for such an eventuality with both sufficient manpower and leadership, but some Trooper liberties may be limited during the operation while under initial JTF command according to Marine Maj. Michael Lynch, JTF operational plans officer.