Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Main languages: English
Main religions: Christianity
Main ethnic groups: mixed (40 per cent), black (20 per cent), white (20 per cent), expatriates of various ethnic groups (20 per cent) According to the 2010 census, the overwhelming majority of the population is Christian, with 23 per cent belonging to the Church of God and 14 per cent belonging to the Catholic church. There were only 0.4 per cent Muslims and 0.8 per cent Hindus. The total population at the time of the census was 55,456.
The majority of the population is of mixed ethnicity. There is a substantial Afro-Caribbean migrant workforce, drawn from Haiti, Jamaica and other islands. Strong family and cultural ties dating back to the early colonial period also exist between the Cayman Islands and residents of English-speaking enclaves on the Caribbean coast of Central America.
Updated: May 2018
The Cayman Islands is widely known as a tax haven. Over the years, this has attracted significant immigration from wealthy expatriates, as well as a significant immigrant workforce who provide much of the labour on the islands.
The Caymans are also a common transit point for Cuban asylum-seekers en route to the United States. Authorities have regularly responded to these arrivals with detention and deportation.
More generally, increasing tensions around immigration have resulted in the government adopting stricter legislation for immigrant workers, limiting expatriate workers to a maximum of seven years of employment with the stated aim of curbing decades of unmanaged population growth.
Updated: May 2018
The Cayman Islands are located in the western Caribbean Sea. The largest, called Grand Cayman, is situated northwest of Jamaica, The sister islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, lie about 130 km northeast of Grand Cayman. All three islands were formed by large coral heads.
There does not appear to have been any significant permanent presence by indigenous Arawak-Taíno on the Cayman Islands. The first European contact occurred in 1503 when Christopher Colombus sighted Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, which he named Las Tortugas on account of the many sea turtles in the area. The Cayman Islands got their name from the indigenous Arawak-Taíno population’s word for crocodile (caiman). The name was adopted by the British privateer Sir Francis Drake, who landed in 1586. The supply of fresh meat provided by the sea turtle population led to the islands being a regular halt for European ships; this led numbers to dwindle, forcing local turtle fishers to go further afield.
The islands, along with nearby Jamaica, were ceded to England in 1670 under the Treaty of Madrid and were governed as a single colony along with Jamaica. As with Jamaica, slavery became an important component of the local economy. According to the first census conducted in 1802, there were 933 people on Grand Cayman, of whom 545 were slaves. When slavery was abolished in 1834, there were 950 slaves owned by 116 families.
When Jamaica became independent and joined the Commonwealth in 1962, the Cayman Islands remained a separate British overseas territory.
In 1994 and 1995 the islands were involved in the Cuban refugee crisis, when several thousand Cubans arrived in search of political asylum. Most were sent on to the US military base in Guantánamo, Cuba, while some were granted political asylum.
As a British overseas territory, the Cayman Islands have an appointed governor who represents the monarch. The governor has the power to veto any law passed by the Legislative Assembly which is popularly elected every four years. The territory is run by the nine-member cabinet, and the civil service falls under the jurisdiction of the chief secretary, who also serves as acting governor when required.
The Cayman Islands enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. The islands’ main sources of income are offshore financial services and tourism, which have replaced traditional turtle fishing and agriculture. With tens of thousands of incorporated companies and hundreds of banks, the territory is known as one of the largest tax havens in the world.
Updated: May 2018
Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission