A group of Cuban dissidents, including a one year-old boy, have declined housing assistance and have been living and protesting outside the United Nations office on Chancery Lane, Port of Spain since Monday.
The group is hoping to be granted asylum in the US by the United Nations but, according to Rochelle Nakhid, coordinator of the non-governmental organisation Living Water Foundation’s Ministry for Migrants and Refugees, that is unlikely to happen.
The Cubans have been living under a tarpaulin outside the UN office after refusing a housing offer from Living Water. They have been using the bathroom facilities at the Queen’s Park Savannah and also at the National Museum.
The original group of 12, made up of family and friends, came to Trinidad from Cuba on November 8, last year. They were pacifist protesters of the “totalitarian” system in Cuba. They say they fled because they were being persecuted and their lives were in danger.
After the Immigration Division took their passports, they were sent to the Living Water Community, the first contact point for refugees. Their documents were then transferred to the local UN office because this country does not facilitate the asylum process.
Since they arrived, the group has been silently protesting outside the UN office and their numbers eventually swelled to 23 including five children. During a protest in November someone threw an improvised explosive device at the group and a few of them received minor injuries and had to be treated at hospital. The incident is being investigated. A local spokesperson for the group said they received an interview with the UN recently but they are refusing to leave until they see movement with the processing of their documents.
He said they are not allowed to work but some do odd jobs to survive where they are taken advantage of and paid about $100 for a whole day’s work.
Nakhid, speaking to Newsday in a telephone interview, said no one is entitled any type of assistance and Living Water offers what they can.
“The problem is they are not able to work legally in the country and are dependent on assistance. There is only so much we can do. We cannot pay living costs for all people registered with us. It is impossible.”
In terms of housing Nakhid said they had an excellent scenario at Mt St Benedict where they were paying $500 per month for eight to ten people. She said, however, they took advantage of the situation and were loud, had parties and were disrespectful. She reported they were given two months notice to leave.
“The group want us do everything for them. We encourage them to be self-reliant.” The spokesperson said the group had recently been staying at an inn in Belmont but left after a month. He said they were offered housing in Curepe but they found it to be too small and they did not want to live with people they did not know.
Nakhid said when Living Water offered them apartments in St Joseph and Curepe they said it was too far for them to travel to the UN and protest every day, and they believe the continuous protesting will help in getting them resettled.