Nine Cubans have been arrested and three children have been taken away by the police Child Protection Unit after they refused to remove themselves from the premises of the United Nations building at Chancery Lane, Port of Spain, reported Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
The Cubans, who had been living on the street for more than a week, are scheduled to appear in the Port of Spain Magistrates’ Court today charged with obstruction.
Yesterday a second consecutive multi-stakeholder meeting was held to discuss the issue of asylum seekers in general and the specific case of 18 Cuban protesters who took up residence outside the UN building since last week in a makeshift camp. Al-Rawi reported, the meeting included representatives of the protesters, the Police Service, the police Child Protection Unit, UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Living Water Community.
He said in the two hour meeting it was explained that despite the application for asylum, there were breaches of the law and several of the group agreed to take up accommodation provided by Living Water Community and had their belongings relocated.
“Twelve people - five women, three children and four men, were adamant that they continue in their enterprise and they were cautioned again on their ultimate responsibility (to the law).”
Al-Rawi said this group was cautioned again and further attempts were made to persuade them to leave. But after their ultimate refusal, they were arrested and taken to the Belmont police station. The children, ages nine, three and one were taken by the Child Protection Unit. Al-Rawi said the welfare of the children is paramount and he believes the Children’s Authority will attend to the matter with alacrity. According to an eyewitness, the Cubans went quietly when the police came for them.
Al-Rawi said the government was in full compliance with its obligations and the UNHCR expressed gratitude for the responsible approach to the matter.
“We are satisfied we did our very best efforts in the situation.”
He said they had gone the extra mile but the law enforcement agencies could not allow them to flout the law. He stressed that when it comes to law enforcement, government has no role but they did attempt to “soft land” the situation as much as possible.
The Cubans came to Trinidad from Cuba on November 8 last year, saying they were pacifist protesters of the “totalitarian” system in that country and fled because they were being persecuted and their lives were in danger. They have applied to the UN for asylum and are hoping to be relocated to the US.
They had been protesting outside the UN since their arrival and previously received housing from Living Water Community. The group declined a recent housing offer from Living Water and instead set up a makeshift camp last week and used the facilities at the Queen’s Park Savannah. On Monday they went on to the UN property when authorities attempted to remove them.
Al-Rawi previously told the Newsday the UN had received applications from the Cubans and there was a verification process to determine if they are to be categorised as refugees, a process of which is ongoing for a number of people who have come to the country. He said the UN explained at the meeting they cannot “slingshot” the Cubans’ case because of the amount of noise they make and the process must be disciplined.
There are about 600 refugees and asylum seekers in this country and according to a UNHCR fact sheet from March 2017 the biggest group is Cubans at 36 per cent followed by Syrians and then Venezuelans. Al-Rawi said the issue of asylum seekers in this country was also discussed during the meeting on the Cubans.